DECATUR – Jay'aunna Milan has been to Scovill Zoo before, but she had never met goats as up close and personally as she did on Tuesday.
The second-grader from Baum School was on a field trip with her fellow students, and teachers Michelle Hazelrigg and Joni Grubbs were coaxing their young friends to try petting goats. Jay'aunna was a little afraid of them.
To encourage her, Hazelrigg bought some of the food the petting zoo provides and found herself completely surrounded.
“It's a little like teaching second grade,” she quipped, laughing, as she tried to make sure all her new furry friends got a taste.
Eventually, Jay'aunna did cautiously stroke a baby goat once or twice.
The last weeks of school are busy ones for places like Scovill Zoo, which welcomes busloads of schoolchildren for field trips as the school year winds down. Last week, Scovill had 18 groups on the same day.
The Children's Museum of Illinois, next door to the zoo, has the same experience.
“We start ramping up in April and pretty much through last few weeks of the school year it's pretty much chaos,” said Amber Kaylor, executive director of the museum. “We get a lot from of out of town, which is surprising, some that are two hours a way by bus. It's interesting to see who's here.”
Even on their busiest days, the zoo staff tries to accommodate.
“We hate to turn anyone down, because that may be the only day they can come,” said Director Ken Frye. “So we try to squeeze one more in.”
Things are slowing down a bit now, he said, with the end of the school year only days away, but Tuesday was fairly busy, too.
Trinity Lutheran School in Springfield brought kindergarten and first grade, said teacher Melissa Boehme.
“It's a good place for a field trip,” she said. “It's a decent distance from Springfield and there's so much to do, with the playground and the train and the carousel.”
Scovill Zoo offers groups of 10 or more, such as school field trips, a group rate on tickets that includes train and carousel tickets, Frye said, and if requested, a staff member can provide a presentation for an extra fee. Mostly, the groups just enjoy the zoo and if they bump into a zookeeper along the way, they can ask questions about specific animals in an informal setting. His hope is that the students will leave the zoo with a little more knowledge and a desire to learn more about animals and conservation.
That's one reason for taking field trips to the zoo, Hazelrigg said. The students have been watching the zoo's periodic Facebook Live broadcasts, when they show specific animals and answer questions about them from people who are watching, and the kids have asked several of those questions. Another is that some of their students have never been to the zoo and might never get to go if not for the field trips.
Kristen Johnson volunteered to help chaperone the Baum students because her son, 8-year-old Karson Canham, is in the class. Karson has been to the zoo several times. The train is one of his favorite things, but so is the petting zoo.
“Some of our kids come to the zoo regularly,” said teacher Joni Grubbs. “But for some of our kids, this is their only chance.”
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