Racine Zoo AmeriCorps Program

AmeriCorps: Getting Things Done for America

As the nation’s only federal agency for community service and volunteerism, AmeriCorps operates with the goal to “get things done” for America. Since its inception as the VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) program in 1964 to help communities combat poverty, AmeriCorps has grown to include three “branches”:

  • The original VISTA, dedicated to assisting communities that are combating poverty

  • The NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps), designed to help communities recover from disasters and address other critical needs

  • AmeriCorps State & National, which funds local organizations working for their communities


After meetings to assess need with every public school district in Racine County, research into best practices and similar programs, it became clear to Racine Zoo staff that members of the community, particularly students, benefit from greater exposure to, and participation in, zoological and environmental programming. Given the Zoo’s dedication to its mission of “fostering an enlightening and affordable wildlife experience that improves the bond between people and nature,” the AmeriCorps Program was established in the fall of 2019 through Serve Wisconsin, the state arm of the national AmeriCorps program. Since then, members of the Racine Zoo AmeriCorps Program (affectionately referred to as “RZAP”) have focused on delivering free educational programming to students in Racine County, assisting keepers in their animal care duties, and educating zoo guests about a myriad of topics relating to wildlife, conservation, and the environment.


RZAP members spend a large portion of their time developing and teaching free environmental education programs to students in Racine County school districts.These programs are designed to increase scientific literacy and knowledge of environmental stewardship while also exposing students to conservation topics and fostering an appreciation for wildlife. As of 2021, the five programs offered are:

  • Classification Cadets (Kindergarten): students explore the differences between five groups of animals: invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals

  • Wildlife Explorers (3rd Grade): students are introduced to adaptations and how they help animals survive in their habitats

  • Beginning Birders (4th Grade): students discover the diverse species of birds that call Racine home and learn how to identify them via their calls

  • Guardians of the Great Lakes (7th Grade): students learn about the importance of the Great Lakes, local species that rely on Lake Michigan, threats to the Great Lakes region, and what humans can do to help

  • Super Scientists (9th Grade): students review the scientific method, learn how and why zoos participate in research, and then go through the scientific process themselves


In addition to regularly scheduled school programs, RZAP members work to engage folks of all ages through a variety of educational offerings. You might find members out and about at the zoo at pop-up educational stations. These ‘pop-ups’ range in topic from animal and plant adaptations to native and invasive species, and utilize a combination of live ambassador animals, biofacts, and demonstrations to engage and teach guests here at the zoo. On days when you aren’t able to make it to the Zoo, you can check out the Zoo’s social media to find fun educational videos. These videos, conceptualized, filmed, and edited by the members, include fun facts about both our behind the scenes animal ambassadors as well as all the animals you can visit when you come to the zoo. Some videos even include at-home crafts or nature challenges geared towards anyone looking for a fun project!


While the majority of members’ time is spent working on educational programming, that’s not all they do! They also assist the animal caretakers in all areas of the Zoo, from goats and sheep at the farm to primates and carnivores in the vanishing kingdom exhibits. Days working with the animal care team can be shadowing keepers to build their animal care skills, from helping clean habitats to observing husbandry training sessions. Members also work with the lead ambassador animal coordinator to gain proficiency in handling animals safely for programming, as well as assisting in training behaviors that are beneficial for both animals and educators. 


Now they want to share all this with you! Come visit the Racine Zoo AmeriCorps Program (RZAP) blog where you can meet this year’s Members and learn about AmeriCorps and RZAP. New posts are published weekly and include topics ranging from what our service looks like at the Racine Zoo to conservation issues animals face in the wild. This blog is geared towards everyone, so whether you are interested in joining the program one day, discovering new actions you can take to help wild animals and places, or learning more about the Racine Zoo as a whole, this is the blog for you!


Visit the blog!