Metro Nashville Public Schools has announced an exciting new public-private partnership at Croft Middle Design Center that expands its 15-year partnership with the Nashville Zoo. Along with T-Mobile, Vanderbilt University’s Center for Science Outreach, Dell Computers and Discovery Education, the school has created a Virtual Zoo learning concept that integrates technology to allow students to monitor animals and solve advanced problems in zoo keeping and zoology from the classroom.

The announcement took place Nov. 29, 2017 with about 50 teachers and staff, students, parents and community partners in attendance, including Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph and Board of Education member Will Pinkston, who represents District 7 where Croft resides.  Croft student ambassadors, zoo ambassadors and Student Council members served as hosts for the day demonstrating and explaining how the virtual zoo worked, what they hoped to learn and providing a guided tour of the school.

“This is an example of the great possibilities that can happen when you have extraordinary business partners, a great vision, and we execute on that work,” Joseph said. “This new public-private partnership represents another powerful example of how our strategic priorities are helping to improve outcomes for students here in Metro Nashville Public Schools.”

Pinkston who initiated the idea four years ago said his conversations with the school’s leadership and the Parent-Teacher Organization’s (PTO) leadership, focused on how to better connect the zoo and the school.

Dr. Shawn Joseph thanks the collaborative partners involved in the Croft Middle Design Center Zoo inititative. They are the Nashville Zoo, T-Mobile, Vanderbilt University, Dell Computers and Discovery Education.

Dr. Shawn Joseph thanks the collaborative partners involved in the Croft Middle Design Center Zoo inititative. They are the Nashville Zoo, T-Mobile, Vanderbilt University, Dell Computers and Discovery Education.

Principal Dr. Jeremy Lewis stands with 6th, 7th and 8th grade students working with the new zoo technology.

Principal Dr. Jeremy Lewis stands with 6th, 7th and 8th grade students working with the new zoo technology.

“At the time, we talked about technology. Like a lot of other good ideas, it didn’t move as far and as fast as we liked without a good corporate partner. That’s where Matt Beagle came in with T-Mobile,” Pinkston said.

Through the new Croft Virtual Zoo, students will study and research animal life in specialized courses using technology to enhance the school’s current emphasis on zoology. The benefits this educational partnership provides Croft students also translates into support to the Interdisciplinary Science and Research (ISR) efforts at Overton, Hillsboro and Stratford High Schools. Overton High School has already incorporated a behavioral studies unit into its sophomore class curriculum providing scientific, project-based learning to students.

With support from T-Mobile and the Nashville Zoo, a total of six high-definition cameras have been placed in the animal exhibits of the cassowary, flamingo, clouded leopard, red panda and red ruffed lemur, and Saddle-billed stork.

The cameras broadcast video feeds over T-Mobile’s wireless network and students access the video feeds using devices provided by Dell.

“T-Mobile was very honored to be considered to do this and to be invited in to help served these kids and take their education very seriously,” said Matthew Beagle, T-Mobile digital inclusion specialists. “I work with a lot of school districts between many states and the professionalism, the thoughtfulness, the detail that went into this exercise of taking it from an initial meeting of ‘what if’ between Will and I to being here today is like nothing I’ve seen anywhere else.”

As part of the students’ learning experience, ethograms, a catalogue of behaviors specific to a type of animal, will be created for students to catalog data from their observations for classroom review and discussion.

STEAM in action. Croft students dissect a Stargazer Lilly in science class.

STEAM in action. Croft students dissect a Stargazer Lilly in science class.

Croft students build projects for the zoo exhibits with the help of teachers and volunteers.

Croft students build projects for the zoo exhibits with the help of teachers and volunteers.

Dr. Shawn Joseph visits with students involved in the project and discusses with them what they are learning.

Dr. Shawn Joseph visits with students involved in the project and discusses with them what they are learning.

“Nashville Zoo is incredibly excited to continue developing our partnership with Croft Middle School through this unique educational opportunity,” said Chad Fifer, education director, Nashville Zoo. “Our goal is to highlight what zoos and aquariums are capable of when it comes to education and conservation. We truly hope to make this school a model for what is possible when a zoo and school work together.”

In addition, Croft students will also receive support from a full-time Vanderbilt scientist, who will be heavily involved in conducting evaluations on the partnership as well as identifying how it impacts students.

“We have been working with Croft and the zoo for several years, and now with the T-Mobile cameras and partnerships, we can really pull in some amazing scientific – STEAM – learning,” said Dr. Jennifer Ufnar, director, Scientist in the Classroom Partnership Program.

Croft is among 18 schools included in MNPS’ first phase effort of implementing STEAM curriculum into every middle school. Croft is also one of only two middle schools in the nation offering a dedicated scientific research focus on zoology. Jeremy Lewis, principal of Croft Middle Design Center, echoed the excitement of the day and the educational benefits the virtual zoo will offer students.

“Today’s announcement has me very excited about the future learning opportunities for our students and our teachers, and what it will mean for our 15-year partnership with the zoo,” Lewis said.