While middle school students across the country were engaging in monkey business for spring break, kids from Bloom Community School spent their vacation with the primates of the Louisville Zoo.
Eight students at Bloom, a private school in Normal, researched primates of their choosing as part of an inquiry project for class.
“The idea was to close the gap between what life was like in the wild and what life was like in captivity,” said teacher Grace Sheese.
Teaming up with Illinois Wesleyan University psychology professor Ellen Furlong and her students, Bloom students like Tess Halperin and Wes Kalmes-Finch spent four days at the Louisville Zoo getting up close and personal with monkeys, orangutans, and more. The idea: create improvements to the exhibits of the primates.
Tess’ group developed a ladder for the monkeys to climb on, while Wes’ created a gadget for the orangutans that would reward the creatures with food upon opening it.
Observing the orangutans up close and personal helped Wes see similarities between the animals and humans.
“When I read about them in books,” he said, “they seemed like the closest thing to humans but actually seeing them do things that humans do—it was really impressive.”
Furlong and her IWU students made the trip to learn about ethical issues of animal captivity and how primates make decisions. Though her fourth trip with her mentees to the zoo, it was her first time going with Bloom students.
“It was really fun to have the younger students along this time,” she said. “They provided energy and different kinds of enthusiasm.”
Sheese felt the trip was a major confidence boost for her students when they got to see their ideas come to fruition and be implemented by the zoo.
And what were the students' favorite parts of the trip?
“It was seeing all the work come together,” said Kalmes-Finch, “when we finally presented our group’s enrichment.”
“My favorite part was the building process,” responded Halperin, “because we had to get a lot of PVC pipe and cut them and glue them together.”
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