The Center is a vibrant, multi-faceted organization that provides education about the biology of life on Earth through the activity of medically caring for sick and injured wildlife and nontraditional pets. Education at the Center is real people doing real things to help wildlife, and letting students of all ages and all walks of life join in. We let it happen naturally. Learning is directed by the student who asks what he or she wants to know and participates in what he or she wants to learn about. Animals, especially those that are orphaned or sick, engage people and hold their attention. Distractible learners thrive at the Center; a place of free-choice learning.
Using our platform of veterinary care to teach science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is a new educational paradigm that works well with a system of learning through mentoring. Education at the Center is constantly evolving. We are flexible and work to change our education methods to best fit the needs of our diverse student populations. After 30 years we have learned a great deal of educational techniques, but we have been at this long enough to know that effective education is not static, it is always moving.
In School/After School and Place-based Education
Over the years we have had the opportunity to work with policy makers and educators to develop science curriculum for schools in the Greater Boston area. Most recently, Dr. Martinez was asked to work with the Massachusetts Department of Education to help facilitate teachers in their work to create model curriculum units in the physical sciences and life sciences for 3rd – 5th graders statewide.
The Center’s key in-school and out-of-school programs are As Clear As Mud, SEVENS and Wired Science. SEVENS teaches students about natural objects – from clouds to trees. During each session students decide which seven things they want to know about. We visit their classrooms 7 times and include field trips, a visit to the Center and multiple visits to their local natural areas. Students make their own personal field guides. Wired Science is being launched this year. It expands on programs like SEVENS to include access to the Center’s veterinary staff through Skype and Face-time. It also connects entire classrooms to the Center virtually through our website. Currently we are developing interactive curriculum, pod casts and live camera segments that continue our in-class and after school programming on-line.
A modified version of SEVENS is provided to inner city and underserved schools through our collaborative with Get out and Learn (GOAL) program. These programs integrate literacy, art, math, geography, geology, biology, and community building by relating them to the natural world. Programs are 5 sessions long and include in- and out-of-class time learning.
Students, teachers, and instructors visit New England Wildlife Center and explore their local ecosystems and natural areas. They study what they see in nature through multiple academic lenses and create their own field guides. Assembling the field guide provides a common goal and encourages students to apply multi-disciplinary knowledge in a hands-on way. As Clear As Mud is a yearlong education program taught by Center staff and classroom teachers. Students are real-life scientists conducting a first of its kind experiment. They collect invertebrates (clams/mollusks) on their local beaches, take non-lethal hemolyph samples and look at them under the microscope back in the classroom. They are investigating whether invertebrates have white blood cells. If they do, then a question arises: do some have more than others and what does that say about the health of our local oceans and our own health? Students learn the scientific method and, along the way, explore their own local beach environments and learn about the creatures that live there.
Most recently, the Center provided three environmental education programs at the Dorchester Collegiate Academy, one at the Oliver Wendell Holmes School, and one at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf in Allston. This Spring the Center is offering our Wired Science program to students in the Oliver Wendell Holmes School and the Dorchester Collegiate Academy.
The Center provides many long-term in- and out-of-school time education programs. We are a destination site for countless groups that serve children including school field trips, summer camp field trips, Girl and Boy Scouts, after school programs, South Shore Quest Program, home-schoolers and many more.
In keeping with a principle that no animal should die needlessly and uselessly we often necropsy and dissect former patients as an educational process. From these activities we resurrect the bones and prepare them for safe use by students and the public. We display them in our nature center where people may handle, use and learn from them. If you need something for ‘show and tell’ you may borrow what you want.
Every Tuesday we run our Wild Things Playgroup educational and artistic activities especially designed for toddler – kindergarten age. For many it is their first experience with live animals. For many others it is a time and place for parents to relax and for kids to explore. Once a month we offer a chance for youngsters to come in and work with our resident artist Eleanor. Kids get the chance to get creative while also learning about the natural world. Recently, they have been busy painting our windows.
The Center’s Twice a Week Open Mic and Concert Series integrates music, poetry and art with environmentalism. Every Saturday beginning at 4:30 people of all ages come and sign up to play an instrument, sing a song, read poetry or to express themselves in other artistic ways. Cookies and soda are available and the audience is supportive and encouraging to all participants. Catbird is the longest running open mic on the South Shore. Concerts are held on Friday nights and feature popular local bands and national artists, as well as the up and coming of all ages. These events are coordinated and hosted by Stephen Martin, a well-known musician regionally and nationally.
The Center’s collaborative with Norfolk Agricultural High School is now in its 7th year. The Center’s veterinary staff provide job training for 11th graders every year. The students go through an interview with Center staff and those chosen work along side undergraduate students who peer mentor their younger colleagues. Norfolk Aggies high school teachers accompany the students, hold regular science classes and receive seminars from the Center’s veterinarians. The Center also provides student internships to local high schoolers from schools all over the South Shore.
The Center provides skill-based projects and a meeting place for a challenged transitional young adult from the North River Collaborative. Students from the NRC have volunteered at the Center for 6 years and now run New England Wildlife Center’s retail store – Jaws, Paws and Claws. Here student learn job skills by running the store with their case manager. Students make items for the store, keep track of inventory, interact with the public, solicit donations of goods and much more. The Center provides a training site for students from Granite Academy and either hosts or collaborates with GROW Associates, ARC, New England Village. Several other groups have also reached out to us including a group run by Massachusetts General Hospital.
The Center provides a unique learning experience for ‘distractible’ learners and people that need a lot to do and see. This, in our view, is a significant part of the educational experience that we can provide to students of all ages who often do not succeed well in traditional regulated learning environments (classrooms, scouts). These students often learn significant “random pattern” facts and concepts at the same time.
Since its inception the Center has hosted approximately 5,000 volunteers who have given 100,000’s of volunteer hours to the Center. These individuals come because they care about the environment and are incorporated into the flow of seminars, grand rounds, work training, and educational procedures that the Center provides daily. In other words, they are students. We have no volunteer age limit so volunteers range from toddlers to nonagenarians. (We require anyone under the age of 16 to have a parent or guardian within shouting distance.) Families often volunteer together. The kids go in one direction; the parents in another. In this community structure, mentoring becomes a significant method of educational transfer. Many of our school-aged students are distractible learners or have special education needs. The Center’s free-choice learning style that offers many different activities that the children get to choose from is the perfect place to help them grow, learn and to be connected to the community.
We have strict protocols about animal handling and contact. Volunteers work directly only with licensed educational animals like goats, turtles, snakes, lizards, tarantulas, scorpions, and birds of prey. Rabies vaccines are required when working in the hospital. Everyone can observe the process of wildlife and exotic pet care and are welcome to assist in our exotics animal clinic, The Odd Pet Vet, where we treat and care for about 5000 patients a year.
The Center runs a commercial practice for nontraditional pets called the Odd Pet Vet. All fees collected help fund the Center. Odd Pet Vet is also an educational venue at the Center. All exams and procedures are attended by students of all ages. This exposure gives students up close, hands on, experience with diagnosing and treating exotic animals and all of the biology, chemistry, physiology, anatomy, and husbandry that goes with it. Every student, intern, and volunteer comes to the Center with their own set of interests, questions, and goals. Having students participate in Odd Pet Vet is a way for us to help cultivate each learner’s specific interest area. Both Dr. Robert Adamski and Dr. Greg Mertz provide their email addresses to all Odd Pet Vet clients. Clients can then give updates about the care of their animals, but can also ask questions about their pets and similar animals. We have found that communicating with the use of pictures and videos has improved our web site. Ultimately all social media, Internet communication emanates from the web site.
Undergraduate Internship Program
The Center’s Internship program is entering its 20th year. Each year we train about 65 undergraduates in extended (40 hours a week x 6-8 weeks) work-training programs. To date, our alumna of 1000 students represent about 100 colleges and universities from 40 states and 10 countries. Students work alongside our veterinarians, veterinary technicians, rehabilitators and educators to learn comparative anatomy and physiology, husbandry of wildlife species, pathology, and the techniques and approaches to veterinary diagnostics and therapeutics. This year we have expanded our program to also include participation in the Center’s Odd Pet Vet commercial practice. Here undergraduate interns get real world experience in dealing with clients and pet owners in a professional setting, a skill that is a vital workplace skill.
This year the Center will expand our educational scope to include primary research. Our Pilot projects will be collaborations between our veterinarians and student interns. Wildlife Vet Dr. Adamski, and Priya Patel a veterinary student will be studying the prevalence of Parvo-Virus in Raccoons, and will attempt to quantify and geo-reference incidences of outbreaks. This project is of special interest because Parvo-Virus is communicable between many different mammal species, including dogs and cats, and there has been relatively little research done about this virus to date.
Dr. Mertz is interested in the evolutionary pathways of the immune system. He will be exploring the origins and development of white blood cells and will be researching how and when these cells originated. Dr. Mertz will also look at specific differences that have developed in various families of vertebrate and invertebrate species. He is especially interested in light microscope morphology changes from species to species and in cell function changes and adaptations from species to species. All samples will be catalogued, and used to create a reference database that can be incorporated into education and further research.
This is a beneficial style of research, and is an organic transition for the Center. We currently participate in many types of more loosely structured research, and are perfectly positioned to move into a formal setting. We have access to an eager group of undergraduate students from across the country, a great community of natural science collaborator organizations, and a diverse set of wildlife species to work with. Additionally, all of the data we need to complete these projects will be gathered from samples taken during routine care processes, so we will not have to put any extra stress on our patients. Giving students the ability to take ownership of a specific subset of a larger research area is an important learning tool. They can have full ownership of their projects and will have deliverable results at the end of their stay with us. They will get to learn techniques of staining, cell prep, measurements, and photography. Students will have the flexibility of choosing the group of animals that they would like to study and will be able to work with the morphological and interpretive differences of the cells identified. The Center is excited to move into this next phase of education and further contribute to the understanding of these fields.
In 30 years the Center has treated over 100,000 wild animals in need of veterinary and rehabilitative care. There are millions of wild animals that are injured by human activity each year. Many are orphaned after their parents are inadvertently killed. The top three reasons that wildlife come to us include being hit by a car, injured by a domestic animal, or poisoned by lawn chemicals. Most of the wild animals brought to us come from individuals. The Animal Rescue League of Boston, Animal Control Officers and many other agencies also bring animals to the Center.
The Center is the only comprehensive wildlife hospital in metro-Boston and we can care for only a fraction of those in need. That is why education is so important. Wildlife in need of help come to us from diverse habitats ranging from neighborhood backyards to golf courses, and from local estuaries to pelagic waters. We care for everything from gray squirrels, hummingbirds, hawks, and owls, to herring gulls, gannets, dovekies, fulgars, bitterns, and dowitchers.
When people see or care for an injured or orphaned wild animal, and learn first-hand what human or natural events caused the harm, they want to protect what is wild.
The Center is the veterinary team for several local organizations and museums. As a part of the Odd Pet Vet, we provide medical care and consulting to all types of animals at various institutions around Massachusetts, both in our facility and off site. For over a decade the Center has provided care for animals from the Boston Museum of Science, including assisting MOS in becoming one of the first American Zoological Association (AZA) accredited museum in the country. This year the Center’s team became the primary care provider for animals at the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Drumlin Farms. We also continue to provide veterinary services to the South Shore Natural Science Center and The Needham Science Center. Our knowledge and experience caring for non-traditional pets and exhibition animals has allowed us to cultivate these relationships, and has helped us create a network of animal care organizations.
As a part of our educational mission, the Center uses animals as a vehicle to teach science and to reconnect students to nature. We regularly provide and host a number of courses. For example, last winter the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council provided their accredited wildlife rehabilitation course in conjunction with the Center’s veterinary team. Wildlife veterinary staff is training with Manomet Observatory for Conservation Services to become licensed bird-banders. Bird banding is a useful tool in both wildlife conservation and research. It allows researchers and conservation groups to track individual birds, and can be used to assess migration patterns, habitat usage, food sources, and overall population health. We are excited to start contributing to this field.
This year our chief veterinarian, Dr. Mertz, was recognized as PETCO’s Vet of the Quarter for winter 2013. This honor was bestowed as a result of Dr. Mertz’s long-term veterinary service to PETCO’s northeast regional stores. He was acknowledged in their national quarterly publication, and continues to be the principal vet for many of the Boston area locations.
In March Dr. Mertz was asked to be the Keynote speaker at the IVG Veterinary Conference. He will be speaking about the use of veterinary medicine as a vehicle for public education. He will also be teaching a class in exotics medicine, with a special emphasis on reptiles.
In February we completed a capital campaign to upgrade the diagnostic and therapeutic capabilities of our facility, which will enable us to provide even better care for thousands of wild and domestic patients each year. We are in process of purchasing and installing new diagnostic tools and outdoor caging to replace our antiquated equipment and housing. To date we have been able to purchase; a new digital X-ray machine, two Doppler machines, a mobile anesthesia machine, and have drafted plans for our new outdoor caging complex. There are many other upgrades to come, but we have already seen an impressive expansion of our treatment and educational capabilities as a result of these upgrades.
For example, our new digital X-ray gives a much clearer and more comprehensive picture of each animal. This means that we are able to diagnose patients more quickly and with a higher degree of certainty on the first shot. The digital X-ray also enables us to reduce the amount of total X-rays we take, and completely eliminates the use of harmful chemicals that are associated with traditional x-ray developers.
New England Wildlife Center…where caring begins