Dartmoor Zoo has been blessed with Superkids to help out around at the zoo. We recently teamed up with WAVE and MAT for an ongoing project. Every Thursdy we have the Superkids working with the Maintenance Team, learning vital skills such as mixing concrete and mortar, laying out pipes and diggings drains.
This project initially started around 2 years ago with a group of year 10 students and has since expanded. Pupils previously excluded from mainstream school for anti-social behaviour including violence are given the opportunity to not only learn new social and practical skills but gain confidence in doing so. The project focused around supporting vulnerable teenagers and preventing future crime. And it’s working! For example, one student who was previously prone to violent outbursts, has been shown to avoid and de-escalate conflict since joining the project. Current Superkids are flourishing in further education, and working hard to achieve the Silver D of E.
The project creator North Cornwall APA teach Andy Wilson, who himself was excluded from school as a child, wasn’t surprised to see how positively the students integrated and got on here at the zoo. Andy, who has a background in zoology, and years of experience teaching in both secondary schools and university, highlighted enthusiastic learning is derived from a mix of academic, social and practical activities. Here at Dartmoor Zoo, our staff have been enthusiastic to have the children too.
Maintenance Manager Tim Steward was pleasantly surprised by his new recruit’s potential and efforts, christening them as “Superkids”, and we all agree! Upon their arrival some of the children had never used a hammer or chisel before, but their eagerness to learn and hard work, meant they went from being given small projects away from the public, to challenging projects which tested their team work, problem solving and cognitive abilities.
This year the Superkids have cleared a pond, cut down a tree and built a bug house from it, not to mention their excavation project of an old 80ft well. This well would have once would have been used by Prince Albert in the 19th Century, during his stay at Goodamoor House. This fascinating excavation also led to the discovery and restoration of a long-forgotten stone staircase.
Thanks to a grant of £2,500 from the office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall, our happy helpers are now designing and developing a decking area around the ponds for visitors to enjoy. The building is now in process, and we are very excited to see it come together. The decking project has been beneficial for the children as they have had to budget, measure, plan and price, all key mathematic skills.
“The decking project is the biggest one they have been given so far but I have no doubts that they will deliver it to a very high standard”, said Tim.
Superkids have benefited from this project in all areas, from social skills, academia, and mental health. All members of the project have found since starting, their mental health has improved, their anxiety has reduced, and their social abilities have increased significantly.
Andy has stated: “Some of these youngsters have always been told they are no good. By giving them an opportunity to excel at something and showing that we trust and respect them and treat them as equals, we gain their trust and respect. This encourages them to take pride in what they are doing and helps build their confidence and self-esteem “.
Superkid James T praised the project: “it is good to have the chance to do something you are proud of “he said. “It gives us the chance to prove what we can do “.
Jamie B who is a member of the academic and practical group also commended the project: “Before coming to the Zoo I found it very difficult to talk to people and now I have friends and am part of a team. While we still do Maths and English, it is more fun than studying in a classroom and it helps you see the point of doing it. I feel trusted and valued which has made me feel much more confident in other parts of my life”.
Since the start of the project, groups have expanded to two. Our Tuesday group which is led by the Education Department here at Dartmoor Zoo follows AQA Unit Awards for Husbandry, Studying Zoo Animals, and Math and English qualifications. We also have further plans for a BTEC Vocational Course on Caring for and Feeding and Accommodating Animals. This course is currently being piloted, with the group spending both time in the classroom and out in the field during their practical zoo study lessons.
We are incredibly excited to continue our work with WAVE and MAT as the project flourishes.