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As you may know, I’m a high school Language Arts teacher. In addition to the day to day joy that is ninth grade English, one of the fun parts of my job is helping students experience the larger world outside their own small city. Field trips can be frustrating to organize because of red tape and the stress of trying not to lose anyone, but I always seem to end up having as much fun as the kids. Recently, we took 145 freshmen to America’s first zoo in Philadelphia, PA.
The bus ride went smoothly. We coasted into Philly on I-95 just after the rush-hour commute, passed through Fishtown and the hipster bars along Girard, and pulled up to the clearly designated drop-off zone at about 10:30 in the morning. There was time and space to comfortably get off the bus, and the walk to the front gate was a short hike. Someone gave us a tip that leaving from the South Gate would put us right where the buses queue when it’s time to go. Nice!
I think the Philadelphia Zoo is the perfect size – big enough to spend a full day, small enough to enjoy all of the exhibits they have to offer. The first place we hit up was the bathrooms, but soon enough we were flying through the bat house and crawling through the reptile rooms. I thought the girls in the group I chaperoned might be squeamish around the belly-crawlers, but they thought the snakes were the coolest! I liked the snapping turtle: his tongue looks like a small fish that acts as a lure to catch its prey. I couldn’t get a good picture of his unique appendage, but at least he smiled for the camera.
After a hearty lunch of a Philly Pretzel Factory twist with a side of Hebrew National Hotdog and a Venti Starbucks Coffee to wash it all down ($12), we hit up the Big Cat Falls. Unfortunately, the lions and tigers were mostly sleeping, as members of the feline persuasion are wont to do. We were ready for the rides.
The trip package we’d booked for the kids included admission to the Swan Boats and the Carousel. It just so happened that we landed a couple of extra tickets, and I wanted to make sure they didn’t go to waste. With two kids giggling uncontrollably beside me, I pedaled and steered the unwieldy bird around the pond. I couldn’t figure out why they were laughing so much until I realized that the scenario was pretty surreal. I said, “I bet you never thought you’d find yourself in a swan boat with your teacher, eh?” They started cracking up so hard I thought we might tip over!
I’m a fan of carousels and the Philadelphia Zoo’s didn’t disappoint. The animals were beautifully carved. Some kids didn’t want to look like babies, so they didn’t go on. They’re in such a rush to grow up! I had no qualms taking a ride. I just stood and waved to the students who opted to remain on the sidelines with a toothy grin on my face.
After a few more exhibits, some souvenir shopping, and a $3 ice cream cone (best deal in the park), it was time to go. We snapped a class photo in front of our school mascot, the fighting zebras, and made our way back to the bus. There was traffic and the kids were noisy when they should have been napping, but it didn’t take away from the great experience we’d all had together. It would be back to the grind the next day, but I was happy to be in the moment, enjoying some pictures I took of the animals.