“Free?” she asked dubiously.
“Free.” I replied.
“Are you sure it’s free?”
“Yep, it’s really free. The bus, too,” I confirmed.
I’ve been having this conversation a lot lately as the new Zoo-to-Community Coordinator. Zoo-to-Community is a program that was started in 2006 to provide local residents better access to the Zoo. Three years ago, we received starting grants from the City of Oakland, Maddie’s Fund, and other local funders, and began spreading the word about free and subsidized field trips to the Zoo for Child Development Centers, Head Start programs, and elementary schools in Oakland. Additional funders have joined in support of this program, including the Fremont Bank Foundation.
The Zoo-to-Community program supports and improves science literacy by providing science and environmental programs with meaningful hands-on learning experiences otherwise unavailable in low-income classrooms. Before each program, Zoo educators provide teachers with preparatory handbooks with ideas for discussion topics, investigative assignments, and follow-up activities.
Each year, the Zoo-to-Community program has been able to reach more and more children, and has attracted numerous community and foundation supporters, including support from our founding grantors. With these gifts, we have been able to expand our program even beyond the borders of Oakland, and bring the Zoo to additional groups, including the George Mark Children’s House and schools for children with disabilities.
In May 2009, we sent more than 40,000 vouchers to Oakland Unified School District elementary schools and low-income preschools. Each voucher allows a child to bring their family (up to six people) to the Zoo for free admission. In the mailing, we include information about education programs that are also offered free of charge to qualified schools, such as ZooSchool and ZooMobile.
My phone has not stopped ringing since the first batch of vouchers were mailed. I love that I’m able to say “yes, it is free” when teachers call and reassure them that even in these hard economic times, the children who have the most need will get to enjoy the Oakland Zoo.
Head Start Day 2007 reached over 2,900 participants; Head Start Day 2008 reached over 3,300 participants, and Head Start Day 2009 reached over 3,500 participants ─ our biggest year yet!
Admission vouchers distributed:
2006 = 3,100
2007 = 18,000
2008 = 21,000
2009 = 40,000
*These numbers reflect only programs that were provided free of charge.