Sparking Student Curiosity

CIS Community Partner, Shedd Aquarium, Visits South Side School

By Katie Rankin, Communications Specialist, Communities In Schools of Chicago

Kindergarteners at Ruggles Elementary School were in for a big surprise this month when special guests from the Shedd Aquarium arrived. The class was learning about penguins — everything from where they live to how they move — and thanks to the Shedd Aquarium’s live-virtual program, the kindergarteners were able to observe Magellanic and rockhopper penguins in action.

This connection was made possible by CIS of Chicago’s Partnership Team. CIS School Partnership Specialist, Dan Heiniger, heard from Ruggles Elementary Counselor, Ms. Yvette Farmer, that STEM education and career awareness were top priorities for students, so he shared the Shedd Aquarium’s program with her.

Dan knew that the Shedd Aquarium had developed a strong partnership with CIS of Chicago, thanks to the support of CIS Community Partnership Specialist, Rishona Taylor, and that the Shedd was creating more opportunities for Chicago students. Dan and Rishona also knew that the Shedd’s program incorporated career awareness.

Ms. Farmer scheduled Shedd programs for the kindergarten, second-grade, and fourth-grade classes at Ruggles. The second graders participated in the Shedd’s shark experience, and the fourth graders went live, behind the scenes, with dolphins. Because the programs were so well-received by students and teachers, Ms. Farmer is already planning an in-person field trip later this spring.

What was the penguin experience like for the kindergarten class?

Dan attended the program and shared how the Shedd’s live-virtual model kept younger students engaged.

The kindergarten program had two in-person presenters interacting with students. In one activity, they invited students to pretend to be penguins, using their two hands as beaks. The Shedd also had a virtual presenter streaming into the classroom, who gave the class a behind-the-scenes look at the penguin habitat.

The kindergarteners shrieked in delight when Shedd staff left students with resources to continue their study of animals, including copies of the Shedd’s new “Edward and Annie” book, plush penguin toys, and tickets to visit the Shedd. The counselor even exclaimed, “No?!” over and over again in surprise when she realized the students would be getting their own books.

In May, Ruggles Elementary is hosting a Career Day for students, and Shedd Aquarium staff have already been invited to share their experience.

The Shedd’s visit to Ruggles is just one example of the connections that CIS of Chicago creates for schools and students. From classroom visits to field trips, CIS of Chicago helps link what students are learning in the classroom with what they can learn from their community. This not only deepens students’ knowledge, but it sparks their curiosity and growth.

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