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A giraffe at the Detroit Zoo, where students will soon take classes through a program at University Prep Science and Math High School.

A giraffe at the Detroit Zoo, where students will soon take classes through a program at University Prep Science and Math High School.

This Detroit high school will train students to be zoologists

What does a high school science classroom have in common with a zoo?

Nothing, of course. Unless the classroom is an actual zoo.

A group of animal-loving high schoolers in Detroit have a lot to look forward to next year. This fall, roughly 20 students will join the first cohort of zoology students at University Prep Science and Math, a charter school on Detroit’s east side.

In addition to the usual physics and chemistry, students will take classes like animal ecology and genetics.

At least once a week, students  will ride a bus to class at the Detroit Zoo, or to the aquarium and nature center on Belle Isle, a state park near their school. In summer, they’ll work at the zoo or undertake science projects on Belle Isle, studying birds nest development and bird predators.

The program is the latest specialized offering to appear in the Detroit education landscape in recent years. The city has plenty of classroom seats and not enough students, so many schools embrace specialities like classical culture, engineering, or the performing arts to make themselves more attractive.

Specialization is held up by school choice advocates as proof that competition between schools yields better programs for students. Pitting schools against each other can also cause financial uncertainty, with potentially disastrous results, for schools on the losing end.

This school already focuses on science and math. Now recruiters for University Prep, one of the city’s largest charter chains, will have another selling point: The school is getting its students ready for jobs at zoos or aquariums.

“We don’t just want to do nice field trips,” said Brandon Lane, director of K-12 science curriculum for University Prep. “We want to give them something they can add to their lives that will make them college and career ready.”

Lane said the curriculum is modeled off zoology and aquarium classes given at Michigan State University. He says the program will produce high school graduates with a competitive edge in college zoology programs.

That competitive edge could be expanded if Michigan State University agrees to offer college credit for the work students complete in the program, as Lane hopes it will. The university hasn’t agreed to do so at this time.

The school plans to staff the program with four teachers who have experience in zoology, marine biology, and other specialized scientific disciplines.

Students will have to apply for the program, a collaboration with the Detroit Zoological Society. Between 20 and 25 will be selected to participate each year. The application will be available in June, Lane said.