Last fall, high school teacher Dana Benson had no trouble sharing stories about what she did on her summer vacation. She took care of a cow that loved having her chin rubbed. She explored Maya ruins in the Central American country of Belize. And she showed live hissing cockroaches to visitors at the Milwaukee County Zoo.
Dana Benson shows a red-feathered Cochin chicken last summer at the Zoo. Benson teaches ecology and biology at Oak Creek High School. Last summer she worked as a seasonal zookeeper in the Milwaukee County Zoo’s Northwestern Mutual Family Farm. She did everything from feeding the animals and cleaning exhibits to rubbing Helga the cow’s chin. She also gave Animal Encounter talks. During these talks, zookeepers show visitors animals found in Wisconsin such as a cat, a chicken, a turtle, and a snake. They also show a few that don’t live in Wisconsin such as the hissing cockroach. “These talks gave me a chance to tell the public about endangered species in our own backyards,” says Benson. For example, the ornate box turtles that Benson displayed are endangered in Wisconsin. joint effort of We Energies and the Zoological Society. It offered high school students the chance to learn about the environment and rain forests through classes and field trips. In each of the last three years, six high school students and a teacher from participating schools were selected to take a field trip to Belize. Benson in Belize last August After teaching the Zoological Society’s Belize & Beyond curriculum in her classroom for a year, Benson applied to travel to Belize. She wanted to see the Central American country firsthand. In Belize, Benson hiked, went bird-watching and took in the sights and sounds of everyday life. Her trip has helped her plan topics to study for her classes. “I’m sharing my stories about global conservation in the classroom and encouraging my students to take similar trips in the future,” she says. Benson is also applying for grants so that her students can create educational signs for a new reptile and amphibian zoo in Belize. She plans to encourage her classes to create signs that can be displayed through- out the zoo. “I hope to inspire my students to appreci- ate the world around them,” says Benson. “Students who appreciate ecosystems are more likely to help save them.” Animals, conservation and ecology have always fascinated Benson. In fact, when she went to college she planned to become a zookeeper. In 2004, she got an internship in the Zoological Society’s Conservation Education Department, where she enjoyed helping with summer camps. “I like that I can be a teacher and a zookeeper,” she says. “Hearing stories about animals and conservation is much more interesting to students than listening to a lecture.” Benson got even more stories to share with her stu- dents when she went to Belize last August as part of the Belize & Beyond program. The program, which ended a successful three-year run in 2006, was a
Photo provided by Dana Benson
By Julia Kolker