The gorilla was terrified, the camel was bored and the goat had an accident. The screaming pig refused to be photographed, and no one wanted to hold the woodchucks because they drool. One senior had to keep adjusting her slip, and there was a lot of wiggling and scratching all around. Clearly, it was the most unusual graduation photo session ever held in Cincinnati, if not the world. But that’s fitting because the Zoo School—the country’s only vocational high school based full-time in a zoo—is an unusual institution. This year the 11 graduating seniors decided to celebrate their singularity by inviting their charges (including an elephant wearing a mortarboard) to pose in the graduation picture.
Operated by the zoo and the Cincinnati school system, the 12-year-old program gives juniors and seniors a chance to work with animals most of the day. The plan offers English, history and animal science with such subjects as zoo philosophy, aquarium management and exhibit design. Graduates often go on to become zoo-keepers and veterinarians. “With the hands-on training,” says vocational instructor Kathryn Lanam, “they get an intense education that’s actually closer to a college curriculum.”
Animal House excepted, college was never like this. During the past year Heidi Hegarty was bitten on the nose by a ferret and Dana Shipman got locked up with a zebra. A red-tailed hawk removed the side of Benny Sorrell’s gym shoe, though according to Benny, “It was less terrifying than finding the snake somebody put in my book bag.” Instructor Lanam fell into the penguin pool and had to be rescued. One student accidently let the ponies loose, and for some reason they all ended up at the Avondale Post Office a few blocks away.
Besides the adventure, there’s a mature outlook to be gained. “The kids become more sophisticated about the reality of animals,” says Lanam. “The conservation of animals becomes the focus. As they grow, their philosophy grows, and they learn that animals aren’t just fuzzy little creatures to hold. Well, sometimes they aren’t.”