Rebecca Maniak started her day yesterday with a kick.
Too bad it was from an alpaca trying to get more food from her hands.
"When I was feeding Amigo, that's the alpaca, he kicked me," Rebecca, 13, said. "Not enough to break anything, but I'll have to look and see if I get a bruise."
The eighth-grader is in a group of Wildwood Environmental Academy students who visit the Toledo Zoo once a week for behind-the-scenes and hands-on experience.
Before getting to the alpaca exhibit, the students hand-fed an Arctic fox and then took time to put ointment on a Nigerian dwarf goat with a bruise of his own.
Elizabeth Lewin, curriculum director for the charter school, said the program is one of a kind and one of the ways Wildwood is different from traditional public schools.
"This is to put the so-called book-learning to practical use," Ms. Lewin said. "All schools do field trips, but we have a different approach."
The eight students start each day with the same kind of chores a zookeeper would perform.
"Basically, the school is all hands-on and not just explaining in school," said Patrick Fall, 13.
"Before the zoo opens, we feed the chickens, check for eggs, feed the pot-bellied pigs."
After their chores in the morning, the students usually hear a lesson from a zookeeper and then each week tour a different section of the zoo.
The program, which is dubbed "Junior Zookeepers," lasts eight weeks.
Wildwood Environmental, 1564 Dartford Rd., Maumee, has been open since last year and its enrollment has increased dramatically during that time.
It had only 30 students at the start of last school year, but ended the year with 80. At the start of this school year, almost 200 students enrolled in the kindergarten through eighth-grade charter school.
Charter schools are publicly funded, privately run schools free from many state regulations. Their proliferation in Ohio and impact on traditional public schools have sparked much debate.
Wildwood Environmental is one of six schools operated in Toledo by the Leona Group of East Lansing, Mich.
While at the zoo, Ms. Lewin said she is regularly stopped by parents who are curious about the school and may be considering a charter school.
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