Zoo Academy

Zoo Academy


The mission of Zoo Academy is to provide students with knowledge and career explorations relating to life sciences through authentic STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) experiences at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. Zoo Academy is an excellent model of forming successful collaborations between an informal science education organization and school districts. 


Zoo Academy started in 1996 as a simple partnership between Omaha’s Zoo & Aquarium and Omaha Public Schools (OPS).  This partnership was established through an agreement to share resources.  The school district provided a full-time biology teacher to teach zoology on zoo grounds and the Zoo provided classroom space and access to professionals for the zoology course.  The Zoo and OPS began to see how the collaboration developed the skills students needed to become successful in STEM career pathways. 

In 2009, Omaha’s Zoo & Aquarium, Omaha Public Schools, and Papillion LaVista Community Schools formed a partnership to develop a full day Zoo Academy program.  Together the Zoo and school districts developed a high school career academy model that included zoo specific curriculum, job shadowing in zoo career fields, opportunities to conduct scientific studies in conservation research labs, and the development of a student selection process.

Non-traditional Learning

This innovative high school program is an effective, non-traditional teaching model for science education, that brings together all the components of Nebraska’s College and Career Ready Standards for Science (CCR-Science).  This unique combination of the CCR-Science and student experiences establishes a rich STEM learning environment where students can make discoveries about the natural world and apply the knowledge gained to real-world situations.

The Zoo Academy concept is a combination of three major educational components: career exploration, classroom experiences, and scientific processes through research opportunities.  These three components create a new learning adventure for the teachers, students, and zoo staff daily.

The academy consists of one social studies, one math, one English, and two science teachers.  These teachers collaborate with Zoo staff to provide a rich inquiry-based classroom environment for students.  The teachers plan curriculum goals around relevant inquiry-based zoo experiences.  Utilizing the Zoo’s staff and animal collection, leads to a variety of learning enrichment opportunities for the students.


Student Benefits:
  • Students build a robust resume, which includes experiences conducting research to participating in animal medical procedures.
  • Students develop and master STEM skills in animal management departments.
  • Students explore a variety of STEM career paths to help inform the career they will pursue.
  • Students are given the opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills to relevant conservation issues.
School District Benefits:
  • The Zoo Academy program is a valuable resource for hiring future zoo employees. Students spend nine months developing STEM skills needed to become zoo employees. 
  • Many students become summer keepers, volunteers, and interns. Alums are returning as veterinarian interns, veterinarian technicians, animal care staff, and full-time employees in zoo STEM careers.
  • Collaboration between the Zoo and local school districts has proven to be very successful in establishing a win-win environment for all students and partners.
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium Benefits:
  • Provides rich learning environments for their students.
  • Students develop 21st century skills. 
  • Provides rigorous and relevant STEM curriculum.


Applications for the 2021-2022 school year have closed.

Please note that there are two essays that must be submitted with your application.
You will need to type or copy your application into the application. 

Below are the prompts for this year's application:

1. Please explain why you are applying for the Zoo Academy and how participating in this program will benefit your future career plans. 

2. Identify and explain the conservation issue that is most important to you. 

Zoo Academy Application

Applicants must be in a participating school district. 
Please contact Omaha's Zoo & Aquarium Education Department to find out if your district participates.  

Current Projects (2021)


The Heart of the Savannah   

by Claire Bingaman, Nawal Zahid & Sierra Baker


"The Heart of the Savannah" is a comic and activity book created by Zoo Academy Seniors. It features the journey of a young cheetah cub, Suka, who travels across the African savannah after becoming separated from his family. It aims to teach readers about the ecosystem cheetahs are a part of and to encourage them to become involved in cheetah conservation. Consider adopting a cheetah from the Zoo Foundation to help us continue cheetah conservation and research. Click the link below, select the level of donation Cheetah Conservation, and click on the cheetah picture.