It’s not every day that a high school student gets up close and personal with a tarantula or snake, but Cristo Rey students who work at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University have the unique opportunity to do so.
The Academy of Natural Sciences is a job partner in the Cristo Rey Philadelphia Work-Study Program. Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School serves 9th through 12th graders from Philadelphia and Camden who could not otherwise afford a private education. The innovative Work-Study model enables students to receive a top quality, college-prep education. Each student works for real wages at a real job five days per month, funding 60% of the cost of their tuition. Jobs at non-profits, like the Academy of Natural Sciences, are made possible through funding from companies like VWR, part of Avantor. For the 2017 school year, VWR funded the positions of the eight Cristo Rey students that worked at the Academy of Natural Sciences.
As a leading natural history museum, the Academy of Natural Sciences has many exhibits for visitors to explore, including Dinosaur Hall, the Butterfly Exhibit, and Outside In Exhibit. There are countless opportunities to learn and you may just learn something new from one of our very own Cristo Rey workers.
Most Cristo Rey students work at the Outside In Exhibit. Outside In is designed for young children and families to explore and touch live animals in a safe environment. Cristo Rey workers maintain the exhibits, care for the animals, and hold the animals for children to touch.
The day starts with morning chores: “Before 10 am, when Outside In opens, we have to feed the animals, mist their cages, and get the exhibits ready,” says Tatiyana Brown, freshman at Cristo Rey Philadelphia. The animals range from cockroaches, spiders, millipedes, and beetles, to snakes, geckos, tortoises, turtles, and rabbits. “I was really scared of snakes, but my supervisor trained me how to hold them and now I actually like snakes. I take out the Eastern Milksnake every time I’m at work,” says Brown.
Supervisors, Sean Stallworth and Amy Hoyt, train Cristo Rey workers on how to hold the animals. Bugs were first to learn how to hold: “I was cringing. The Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches are huge and dark, but now I can grab them without hesitation,” says Marilise Morales, sophomore. “Working there has made me braver when I see bugs in my house,” she adds, laughing.
Not only do our workers hold the animals for children to touch, but they educate visitors about the animals with knowledge learned from their supervisors and books in the exhibit. “My favorite part is teaching the kids. There’s so much to share and each day is different,” says Morales.
In addition, Cristo Rey workers have free time to explore other exhibits. Leona Henderson, junior, loves to check out the Dioramas: “The African Habitats look so realistic and learning about each animal is fascinating. I also love the Butterfly Exhibit; they have live butterflies that land on your hands and fingers.” Kaiya Boyer, freshman, gets to work in the Butterfly Exhibit regularly, where she cares for the butterflies and helps manage visitors. “I’m not a big fan of bugs, but the butterflies are really pretty. My favorite is the Paper Kite Butterfly," notes Boyer.
Working at the Academy of Natural Sciences is a unique opportunity that not only provides students insight to a future career in science, but provides them the opportunity to experience a different work environment than an office or desk job.
“I want to be a homicide detective. And I know working at the Academy will have given me useful experience and knowledge for when I go into this field,” says Henderson. For Marilise, working at the Academy opened her eyes to a new interest: “I didn’t know what I wanted to do before, but now I know I want to work with kids.”
The Work-Study Program allows students to explore careers at a young age and see a bigger future for themselves. This would not be possible without diverse work-study partners, such as the Academy of Natural Sciences, and company sponsors like VWR. Students are meeting new people, learning on the job, and overcoming fears. So, if you ever see a bug in your house, you know who to call!