Bloom Community School Students to Join Illinois Wesleyan Students on Spring Break Trip to Enrich Primate Zoo Experiences

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Grace Sheese, left, shows Bloom students in the Blossom and Sprout Classes a video about primate behavior in zoos. Photo Credit: Jessica Worland

NORMAL, IL - What activities will attract and keep a primate’s attention? What kind of learning best engages students of all ages? Over spring break, Bloom Community School students will join a deeply educational adventure over spring break.


This spring break Bloom Community School students will join students from Illinois Wesleyan University (IWU) on a week-long trip to study primates in captivity at the Louisville (Ky.) Zoo. Students will spend the week at the zoo observing primate behavior before designing and building enrichment experiences for the animals. Student projects that meet zoo keeper approval will be presented to the animals at the end of the week, and the students will get to observe how their primate responds.


The trip will provide students with an educational experience that integrates learning about ecology and habitats while also learning design and construction. Student-designed projects will need to be well researched to attract the primate's attention and ruggedly made. Students will use a workshop at the zoo for construction and have already been developing ideas for their projects.


For Dr. Ellen Furlong, a professor of psychology at Illinois Wesleyan University who researches thinking in both dogs and primates , this will be her fourth trip with IWU students to the Louisville Zoo to work on enrichments for the animals there. “The trip helps students take what we’ve learned about animals in the classroom and apply that knowledge in a real world context,” said Furlong. “Classroom learning about ethics and ecological contexts takes on a new meaning when you get to observe a bit of the day to day lives of these animals. The project also challenges students to think creatively and integrate different types of learning.”


The students will also research and consider the ethics of keeping animals in captivity during the trip. Lissie Kleinkort, an 11-year-old Bloom Community School student, is looking forward to taking her project to the primates: “We’re making life in the zoo more like life in the wild. That is important because they can feel more safe and comfortable and feel like they are at home.” Her class developed inquiry questions around this idea for research.

Grace Sheese, a co-founder and current head teacher at Bloom Community School, is excited about the learning opportunity that the trip presents to her students. “At Bloom we strive to provide projects that integrate educational experiences and that are meaningful for our students. It is one thing to read about primates and their environments; actually observing them and interacting with them through the enrichments just adds so much more opportunity for making important connections between what they have researched and what they observe,” said Sheese. “My students are fascinated with the whole process and you can really see their engagement in the work we are doing now to prepare for the trip. This will be the kind of educational experience that lasts a lifetime.”