Day Ten found twenty-some very nervous ZAMs in search of an exit…because today is Presentation Day and none of us wants to go first.
But it wasn’t so bad. We each gave our 3-minute presentation of an assigned animal, then a class member was chosen to offer some comments, followed by constructive suggestions from Sarah Cramer, our teacher, or by an experienced docent. We all escaped with egos intact.
To celebrate, we had a wonderful potluck lunch where visible relief was as plentiful as the food. Many of the keepers and docents came to take part in this festive occasion: We are getting to know one another and becoming part of the “Zoo family.”
Unfortunately, we were also given our final exams to take home and answer using our notes and printed handouts (but no phone calls to each other). We have until next Friday morning to go to a website and post our answers on line before Sarah gets to work that day. Snooze, you lose.
Day Eleven: Stay Home and Work on Our Exams
I can’t share the test with you because Sarah might stop speaking to me, but it was only 3-4 pages of multiple-choice questions. Not too hard and actually kind of fun because it’s forcing me to re-read my notes and all the “Blue Sheets.” It’s a great chance to reacquaint myself with the many animals we have studied in the past five weeks and I needed this brush-up.
If you’d like to see some of the Blue Sheets, which provide comprehensive information written by our Zookeepers about the animals in the Zoo, go to Oaklandzoo.org and click on the tab that says “Animals.” They are there by taxonomic groups: Mammals, Reptiles, etc.
Day Twelve: Zoo Trivia and Graduation
Part of of our final exam was to study all the information about the Zoo itself so we can answer any question a visitor might ask. Where are restrooms? The strollers? When are the otters fed? Where can I get a band-aid? Where’s my child????
We formed small groups and competed against each other for Trivia points with Sarah awarding bonus points as the mood struck her and competition becoming more intense and more hilarious as the morning went on.
When Good Visitors Act Badly
The next activity: role playing what to do (and not do) if a visitor ever misbehaves, not that any ever will
The docents and Sarah got together and performed skits of potential situations we might encounter and our groups had to show different ways we would get the situation under control. We were falling down laughing at how good the docents were at deflecting everything we did so they could continue acting out. I certainly hope I never encounter visitors like them!
The whole point was to review all the ancillary aspects of being a docent: radio operation, lost-child procedures, controlling visitor behavior that’s unsafe or upsets the animals, plus Zoo rules and how to enforce them.
Graduation Isn’t the End
Finally, it was graduation time. We got our certificates and were each assigned a docent mentor to meet with several times over the next few weeks so we can prove we are ready to be turned loose in the Children’s Zoo. They will help us with behind-the-scenes mechanics, such as where to find the biofacts and puppets, and how to do a radio check, and they have a long list they have to go through to make sure every base is covered.
These are a few items on the checklist we have to pass:
~Demonstrate a working knowledge of animal facts for the majority animals in the Children’s Zoo.
~Provide appropriate answers to sensitive or difficult questions.
~Present information that is educational, entertaining, comprehensible and age-appropriate.
~Demonstrate working knowledge of radio protocols (such as lost child and emergency procedures).
And 16 more!
When they sign us off, we get our t-shirts and name badges and are free to move about the Children’s Zoo. Whew.
Will we be Docents after all this?
Not quite! Once we have graduated from all three modules and passed the Docent mentoring in each part of the Zoo, we then can take a test on all of it and if we pass, we enter the elite corps called Docent Council—currently 77 members strong. What does this get us? Well, the chance to do even more for the Zoo such as learn to drive the electric carts and do cart tours, perform in the Wildlife Theater, take positions on the Docent Board, and go on all kinds of interesting field trips to animal research projects in the Bay Area.
Becoming a Docent is a Very Big Deal. This one module required 39 hours of classroom and in-zoo instruction plus homework, plus docent mentoring. Some of our Docents have been with the Zoo over 20 years and volunteer their expertise several days a week—not to mention all that they do to help train us ZAMs. When you see a Docent or ZAM walking around the Zoo, tip your hat and realize that they are highly trained by the best, and highly committed to helping you appreciate everything our Zoo has to offer.
Do our animals deserve anything less?
More ZAM Training Coming Up
In January the Savannah Module will begin and I am already signed up. Stay tuned as we learn about zebra and elk, giraffes and lions…all the charismatic animals of the African plains. Can’t wait!
Until then, hope to see you in the Children’s Zoo.