SA Zoo looks to expand nature school model as demand surges

SA Zoo looks to expand nature school model as demand surges


SAN ANTONIO – Overwhelming demand among parents seeking to get their children into the San Antonio Zoo’s nature-based preschool has far outstripped its capacity.

The Will Smith Zoo School, which opened its current Alamo City campus in 2018, now has a waiting list of more than 8,000 families, and stakeholders are exploring a potentially significant expansion of the unique model to meet that growing demand.

“We are putting together a group of philanthropists, entrepreneurs and business leaders to investigate how to grow this in San Antonio, around the country and internationally,” San Antonio Zoo CEO Tim Morrow told me.

The fully licensed preschool’s current capacity is 244 students. They’ve traveled to the midtown campus from Austin to Corpus Christi and points in between and represent a widely diverse population, including nearly a dozen languages.

The school is child focused, with enrollees spending at least half of every day outside. The classrooms have a low teacher-student ratio, featuring nature-based programming and flexible schedules. The kids spend part of every day in the zoo and follow a typical nine-month school year.

“People get on our list as soon as they’re pregnant. They show us their pregnancy test or bring pictures of their sonograms,” Morrow said.

Some parents from Mexico have reached out about availability, willing to make the commute to enroll their children even for a few days each week.

“We’ve had to put some controls in place so the waiting list is manageable,” Morrow said.

Zoo officials are working with a group that includes veteran educational leaders and successful entrepreneurs who know how to scale up a venture. Morrow said the focus is on how to create more such schools across a much wider footprint, and that could also include aligning with more zoos and universities too.

Read the full story on the San Antonio Business Journal.

Editor’s note: This story was published through a partnership between KSAT and the San Antonio Business Journal.

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