I knew exactly what the topic of my capstone would be by the time that I entered high school. I have had an interest in animals ever since my first pet dog named Rex. However, it did not stop with him. I was fascinated in animals of all sorts. I remember that my family would buy my books about animals. In particular, I would enjoy reading about reptiles. My interest in reptiles came about when I went on a kindergarten class trip to the Philadelphia Zoo, a place that would eventually become the headquarters of my capstone project.
After entering the Reptile and Amphibian House that first time, I noticed that it contained a variety of animals that were like nothing that I had ever seen before. All of its inhabitants were scaly. Some were legless, and others had shells. I had always seen pictures of reptiles, but finally being able to see how unique that they were in person gave me a lifelong curiosity. After leaving the zoo that first time, I was eager to go back and observe things that I was not able to notice the first time, given my young age. As such, when high school gave me the chance to volunteer at the zoo, I eagerly accepted it. This happened when I chose the zoo for my tenth grade Individualized Learning Plan (ILP). Being able to finally wear the zoo uniform to the zoo took my already present excitement about my internship over the top, as the animals would now look to me not as a visitor, but as a keeper.
After I had finished my internship, I felt emptiness in my body. I knew that for my life to once again be complete, I had to find a way that I could incorporate the zoo into my life. I quickly realized that the perfect idea was to have my capstone project have something to do with the zoo. Although I wanted to use it to learn more about what the zoo does behind the scenes, I knew that I could make a more productive use of my time with the zoo. Instead of being selfish, I thought that it would be a good idea to work with the zoo to make the already amazing experience that each zoo visitor has even better. While I was thinking about how to achieve this, I remembered what I did when I volunteered at the zoo in the tenth grade. Then, the idea came to me to improve the zoo’s already valuable education program in any way that I could. This one thought helped to shape how I was going to do my project.
I knew that although the zoo did educate its zoo visitors about the animals in its care, it did not really get the chance to take notes about how each zoo visitor responded to the information that was being presented to them. I knew at that point that it was my obligation to take observations on the engagement level of each zoo visitor that I came into contact with in locations throughout the zoo. This led my project to a halt, as I had to decide what my definition of engaged should be. However, after collaborating with the zoo, we decided that the best way to accurately judge the engagement level of a zoo visitor was by counting the number of questions that they asked. If they asked more than two questions, I would assume that they were engaged. If not, then I would assume vice-versa. To go with this, I would also record the expression on zoo visitors’ faces, the amount of time that they spent with a zoo presenter, and some of the questions that they asked. Taking the data was the activity that took the most of my time to do, as the zoo required for me to volunteer for at least eighty hours.
After I had taken data for months, I compiled it all together to come to a conclusion. I had originally planned to educate zoo visitors myself, but I ran out of time. However, I was pleased with the findings that I was able to gain. I concluded that the best way to present information to zoo visitors was by way of a visual presentation, as more questions were being asked under these conditions. I shared this information with the zoo in hopes that it would help them in any way possible.
Looking back, I am happy to have had the chance to work with my favorite place twice in my life to do something that I enjoy doing. Although doing a capstone may have seemed like work to some of my peers, for me it brought sheer enjoyment. This experience is something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life, proudly bringing it up when I feel the need to do so. It is my hope that next year’s seniors will have an experience as wonderful as mine.