Waubonsie Valley has its own zoo in its science department. Operated by science teacher Jim Nielsen, the zoo was startedin 2005. It has now grown to over 10 animals, all of which have been captive-raised and none have been taken out of the wild. Nielsen has always been interested in wildlife and the natural world. He has a bachelor’s degree in animal science, but originally went to school to become a veterinarian.
“I’ve loved nature since I was a little kid,” said Nielsen. “I’ve always been interested in the natural world and getting out and working with animals. I knew I wanted to work with animals my whole life. That’s actually my degree is in animal science from University of Illinois.”
Nielsen worked at Brookfield Zoo before becoming a teacher. He concentrated on animal nutrition, where he prepared diets for every animal in the park.
“I always knew I wanted to work with animals,” Nielsen said, “and really the reason that I became a teacher was because I wanted to share my passion for the natural world with the next generation.”
The animals are never handled by students but are always utilized in the curriculum through research projects labs and daily conservation.
“They do make it into a couple of our lab experiences,” said Nielsen. “They [students] get to observe them during labs, take notes, things like that. They do reports on them.”
Students are exposed to species that they would otherwise never experience, as the zoo has animals that are endemic to Australia, Vietnam, Brazil, Mexico, Yemen and Pakistan.
“I’m kind of limited to what I can do inside these four walls to share my passion about the natural world,” Nielsen said, “so bringing pets into the classroom allows kids to kind of get that experience every single day.”