Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is not only a destination for fun, but a place to learn about conservation, animals and the natural world. Passionate, certified educators lead these engaging programs, like Cara Treadway, Busch Gardens’ School Programs Supervisor.
With a background in secondary science education, Treadway and her staff lead Zoo School field trips, in which animals and education combine for awesome adventures in learning. Treadway shares her experiences and the rewards of her unique job.
Q: Why did you move from a traditional education setting to a zoo?
Treadway: I have always had two strong passions that set me on my career path —working with children and working with animals. Being able to combine the two things that I love together in my career is something that I know is unique. We teach and promote conservation, and to see the students that come through our camps and school programs apply the knowledge that they learned is the constant reminder that my decision to teach at a zoo was a sound one.
Q: What programs are offered during the school year?
Treadway: At Busch Gardens we offer a variety of programs for school groups, from on-site programs to sleepovers to outreach. The program that I am most proud of is our Zoo School program. This 4-hour structured day immerses students in the “wild side” of Busch Gardens. We offer different topics for different grade levels, and gear all of our programs to meet Sunshine State Standards.
Q: What are some of the lessons kids learn in educational programs at Busch Gardens?
Treadway: It is most important to us that every child leaves our programs with a new learned conservation behavior, one that has real-life applications that they can do wherever they are, whoever they are. We want our students to feel as if they are positively changing the environment, no matter how small an action they take. From turning off the lights when they leave the room to separating their food for at-home composting, we want to teach them that every action counts.
Q: Who can take part in these programs?
Treadway: Everyone! We have programs for all grade levels in public, private and home school. And there are so many topics to choose from that you are bound to find a program to fit into any curriculum.
Q: What are some of the things that happen for you each day that make you have to pinch yourself. After all, you teach and get to play with animals and roller coasters every day!
Treadway: My job is so dynamic. As I am writing this, I am listening to my co-workers in the classroom next to me yelling “Good Job!!” to the ground hornbill, Tufts, who is learning to fetch a ball and bring it back to his trainers. Earlier today, I facilitated a photo opportunity for a camper with a bearded dragon, who could NOT contain his giggling excitement as he touched a lizard for the very first time. Last week I was in a meeting where another attendee had an orphaned wallaby joey in a makeshift pouch on her lap throughout the duration of the meeting, because it was bottle-feeding time. I never know what to expect, so I pinch myself several times a day.
Q: What is the most rewarding thing about your job?
Treadway: Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to bring a group of teachers behind-the-scenes of our gorilla habitat. The program’s topic was conserving the African rainforest and its inhabitants. Standing there, 5 feet from this huge, majestic animal, a teacher began to cry. I asked her if everything was OK, and she replied, “I just didn’t realize how amazing it would feel when I looked into his eyes.” She was overcome with emotion, and pledged that she would make sure that every student that passed through her classroom would learn how to do just one thing that would help protect these animals. It’s that connection that we, as zoological educators, facilitate that remind me of what an amazing job this is.