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Billings gifted and talented students design ZooMontana tiger toys

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Posted at 12:07 PM, May 08, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-08 14:16:31-04

BILLINGS — At ZooMontana, when you take a walk on the wild side you’re bound to see some animals in action, but on this spring day it's the tigers who get the treat as they play with toys designed by elementary students in the Quest gifted and talented program at Billings Public Schools.

The Quest program tiger enrichment toy project is a chance for second and third-grade students to challenge their minds by engineering animal enrichment toys and making real-life observations of their creations in action.

“Their habitat is logs, grass, rocks, trees, and water, and like their behavior they are pushing it, they are running and roaring,” says Charlie Graham, 3rd grade Quest student.

It’s not a typical classroom day, thanks to a partnership between Billings Public Schools, teachers, tigers, and the Q2 One Class at a Time grant. It was awarded to two Quest teachers in the fall of 2023, to pursue the tiger enrichment toy project.

Zookeepers at ZooMontana say the tigers love new things and the zoo considers the student-designed enrichment toys a success. The students do as well.

“It was better than I expected. I saw them playing with it more, sniffing it. They were licking it more and it turned out better than I wanted it to be,” says Tucker James Hitt, 3rd grade Quest student.

“That was pretty cool, it was pretty cool because the tigers just came out and started playing with it,” says Miles Garley and Abram Wald, 3rd grade Quest students.

The second and third-grade Quest class is certainly on an important mission to enhance the tiger habitat.

“Quest is our gifted and talented program for the district. We serve all 22 elementary schools. They come to us one day a week. They are bussed here from their home school,” says Erin Augustine, Quest teacher at Billings Public Schools.

“We write our curriculums ourselves every year, so we try to come up with material that the kids haven’t heard of before,” says Annette Julian, Quest teacher at Billings Public Schools.

This project challenges the class to engineer a toy to keep tigers engaged and a toy that will not get destroyed immediately. The students designed a tube that rolls. It was expected to be filled with tiger food, such as fish, however the zookeeper says the tigers would have likely destroyed the toy too quickly, so they put it into the habitat without the food component.

2nd and 3rd grade Quest program students (gifted and talented) work on engineering animal enrichment toys for Zoo Montana

“Working with the kids on these enrichment projects was such an awesome experience. As zookeepers, it is a little difficult to come up with new enrichment day in and day out. We do a lot of research and these kids did all the work for us, then we got to build some really neat things for the animals that call Zoo Montana home,” says Allyson Dredla, Zoo Montana Wetlands Training Enrichment Coordinator.

“They’re very bright kids. We’re pushing them to levels that they are not used to. That’s our main goal,” says Mrs. Julian.

It appears to be a goal attained by two very deserving teachers who spend each school day fostering intellectual curiosity.