The Senior Class Visits the NC Zoo

Lions, otters and bears, oh my!

The senior class visited the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, N.C. on May 18 for their “Senior Trip,” a special field trip for graduating seniors who paid their class dues to celebrate successfully completing four years of high school.

(From L to R) Seniors Suki  Pannu, Riley Andrews and Shelbey Sparrow pose in a model Cameroonian helicopter.

(From L to R) Seniors Suki
Pannu, Riley Andrews and Shelbey Sparrow pose in a model Cameroonian helicopter.

Senior trips are a traditional rite of passage for twelfth graders across the nation. AP United States Government teacher and Senior Class Student Government advisor Kimberly Drown described senior trips as a kind of reward for years of hard work.

“Senior trips are meant to provide a during the school day but off-campus opportunity for senior students to spend time with their classmates before they all move on to other adventures. They’re supposed to be fun, with minimal guidance, allowing the seniors a sense of freedom and true enjoyment,” Drown said.

(From L to R) Bridget Harrison, Sarah Harrison and Marissa Greene enjoy a rest in the North American Alligator exhibit. Photo submitted by Bridget Harrison.

(From L to R) Bridget Harrison, Sarah Harrison and Marissa Greene enjoy a rest in the North American Alligator exhibit. Photo submitted by Bridget Harrison.

Students were given the opportunity to respond to an interest survey at the beginning of the school year, and submitted their interest vote for either a low-cost trip to the zoo on a school day or a pricer trip to the Carowinds theme park in Charlotte, N.C. on a Saturday. Drown emphasized the role economics played in the final decision.

“We chose the zoo because it’s a far enough away location to feel like a big trip, but still an easy ride and manageable by our activity buses. Going to the zoo and saving the money on travel allowed us to make the trip free for our seniors, and that was a big incentive,” Drown said.” We wanted everyone [who paid their dues] to be able to go, regardless of financial situation, and have a good day with their classmates.”

An elephant seems to smile for the camera in the African Elephant nursery. Photo by Melanie Langness.

An elephant seems to smile for the camera in the African Elephant nursery. Photo by Melanie Langness.

The field trip ended up having no cost for attending students. The $15 general admission fee for each student was lumped into a group rate that the senior class fundraising account paid for. The school also worked with the NC Zoo to provide meal vouchers worth $7.50 at any dining establishment within the zoo. Students were only asked to bring money to supplement the meal voucher if needed, and to pack plenty of water from home.

“I only had to pay an extra five dollars on top of my stipend for my lunch– so it seemed like I got a bunch of food for only $5. It filled me up,” senior Braden Mills said.

As with any school field trip, establishing chaperones and transportation were integral parts of the planning process– asking teachers to volunteer, and working to find substitutes to cover their classes, can be a dull downside to a fun event.

Drown took an interesting approach with groups and chaperones for this senior trip. Instead of assigning specific students to a non-negotiable group with a mandatory chaperone that would escort them around the zoo for the length of the visit, she decided to only group students by bus, and give them completely free reign once they arrived at the zoo.

Braden Mills group snapped a picture on top of a Bison statue. Photo submitted by Braden Mills.

Braden Mills group snapped a picture on top of a Bison statue. Photo submitted by Braden Mills.

“Some of the teachers who volunteered to be chaperones were shocked when they heard that their only duty was to check students in, monitor the bus, instill the importance of meeting back at 2:30 [P.M.], and distribute meal vouchers! Most were used to the typical ‘usher a small group around’ kind of chaperoning,” Drown said.

The “no-rules” grouping system allowed for seniors to take the zoo at their own pace, alternating between the North America and Africa sections of the zoo as they pleased, and avoid any social discomfort.

“The chaperone and group system was great. It really let all the students see what they wanted to see without any conflict between or teachers or other group members, since you could decide to be with only your closest friends,” senior Maya Stafford said.

The bus ride to the zoo took roughly two and a half hours, for a total of a five hour trip. The system of signing up for a bus allowed for students to be pleased with their assigned seats, again showing some benefits of unconventional planning methods.

“The bus rides were actually so much fun since the advisors worked hard to make sure that our assigned seats still put us near our groups of friends. It was a fun 2 hour trip that flew by!” Mills said.

An ostrich roots for food. Photo by Melanie Langness.

An ostrich roots for food. Photo by Melanie Langness.

A small group of parents and faculty at the school expressed concern with the free-grouping plan, saying it would allow students too much room to find trouble. Drown, the Senior Student Government, and the senior class placed faith in the maturity of the soon-to-be-adults when implementing the chaperoning system.

“After all, most of us are legal adults that are going off into the real world– if we can’t handle ourselves inside a zoo without supervision there’s something wrong,” Stafford said.

Once the fleet of five buses arrived in the North American parking lot of the zoo, students were given instructions to meet back at 2:30 P.M. to depart for the trip home, and “released” into the zoo. Some student groups decided to walk around the North American trails first and see the exhibits of animals native to the nation’s continent. Others headed straight for the free tram service to catch a ride over to the African section of the zoo.

The zoo offered cash tickets for certain exhibits that would further an onlooker’s experience in various ways. Paying a few quarters for a telescoped look into the Savannah and paying two dollars to feed the zoo’s giraffes up close and personal were the most popular of these special offers among the seniors.

“I got to feed a giraffe named Jack! [The zoo] had a platform built so we were at eye level with the [giraffes] and we got to hand them pieces of lettuce,” Stafford said.

Jack the giraffe was available to be fed. Photo by Melanie Langness.

Jack the giraffe was available to be fed. Photo by Melanie Langness.

The five miles of walkways covering 500 acres of habitat at the zoo allowed for seniors to feel relaxed and energized as they worked with their groups of friends to see everything they could before leaving. Students did not feel crammed together or stressed, and were able to spend time with all the animals. The zoo offered both traditional “caged” exhibits seniors appreciated from a calculated distance and enclosed rooms where animals were allowed to fly free.

“I loved going into the aviary exhibit because the birds got so close to me. It’s not something you get to see everyday. They were all so beautiful and exotic,” senior Bridget Harrison said.

A parrot in the aviary looks down at guests. Photo by Melanie Langness.

A parrot in the aviary looks down at guests. Photo by Melanie Langness.

While some students still expressed that they would have enjoyed going to a theme park more, the class as a whole reported that they did not regret going and had a pleasant time while on the trip.

“I really enjoyed the senior trip. The zoo was very fun because it’s something different, and I got to spend the day with my senior classmates for one of our last times all together,” Harrison said.