Students volunteer at Zoo Crew, Ecoteen


Creative Commons (Wikimedia)

Every summer, SJS students volunteer at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the Houston Zoo.

Eshna Das and Finn Brewer

On a typical summer day in Hermann Park, teenagers help aspiring kindergartner astronauts put on their space suits and embark on a journey through the solar system, while, across the street, other teenagers teach visitors about animals and advocate for animal rights.

Last summer at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, high school volunteers called Ecoteens helped lead summer camps for kids ages 6-12 and give tours around the museum.

Sophomore Lex Langlais primarily worked with kindergartners. She enjoyed interacting with the kids and hopes to work with the same age range in the future. 

Langlais led a camp named Space Cadet for her first week at the museum. That Friday, she brought her camp to the space exhibit and pretended to go on space missions with the campers. The following week, she led a robotics camp where she showed the children how to build Lego robots.

Not only does the program expose volunteers to different age groups, but it also introduces volunteers to the museum’s exhibits. For sophomore Caitlin Hunt, Ecoteen showed her parts of the museum that she had never seen before. 

“I didn’t even go to the museum much before Ecoteen,” Hunt said. 

In another area of Hermann Park, high school volunteers collectively called the Zoo Crew volunteered at the Houston Zoo. 

Like with Ecoteen, in order to volunteer at the Zoo, everyone has to apply. For the Zoo, when someone is accepted, they are introduced to an area of specialization. Explorers talk to zoo professionals about their careers. Naturalists act as guides for guests, and Camp Mentors take care of the children in the zoo’s camp programs. 

Junior Chaahat Batra enjoyed being a Camp Mentor, working with kids each day, teaching them about different animals and talking to guests.

The Zoo Crew program provides high school students with the opportunity to learn about the zoo’s inner-workings, with volunteers educating visitors about the animals and working hands-on with the animals.

“It’s amazing to learn what happens behind the scenes at the zoo, what the zookeepers have to do every day and all the marketing and executive work,” said Batra, a returning volunteer. 

Freshman Adaline Thompson got to talk about red pandas, an animal that became famous after the hit-movie “Turning Red” was released. She talked about the facts and origins of their red panda Také, who became her favorite animal at the zoo.

“Ironically, Takê means bamboo in Japanese, but our red panda hates bamboo,” Thompson said.

Volunteers also train animals to adapt to the zoo environment. Freshman Caroline Basu trained a lizard to walk into a tray so it could be transferred in between enclosures without trouble.

“It was really nice to volunteer because I could learn about the animal’s welfare and their personalities,” Basu said. “They are all different and unique.”

Teenage students can join the Zoo Crew by going to the Houston Zoo website. Sign-ups for the program usually begin around the start of January, and interviews begin in early May. 

Students between ages fourteen and eighteen can join Ecoteen through the Houston Museum of Natural Science website. The 2023 application will be posted in December 2022.