A new after-school program at Kyrene elementary schools offers students the chance to visit the Phoenix Zoo every week. Just not in person.

Each Thursday, students watch a live webcast hosted by employees who talk about different aspects of zoo life, including animal behaviors and habitat building. The program, titled Project: Zoo Lab II, Return to the Savannah, kicked off on Feb. 3.

Students supplement the live video feed with activities that reinforce overall class themes such as what does it take to keep animals happy and healthy.

One program teacher said the best part for the kids was learning about animal behavior in an enclosed setting.

"The goal of the program is to have a better understanding of animal and human interaction," said Heidi Hellinghausen, librarian at Kyrene de la Estrella Elementary. "The kids were really impressed in how the zoos really try to emulate the wild and how they take into account what the animals need."

Zoo employees explain the topic of the day and also field questions in real-time from staff and students. At Estrella the class takes place in the library and the students watch on a 5-foot-tall projection screen.

"It's the best of both worlds for them, they get animals, TV and technology," she said. "It's better than just trying to explain about habitats and different animals. The kids get to see everything in action."

Zoo Lab is a six-week course and is offered at 17 Kyrene elementary schools. At the end of the program, students and their families will visit the Phoenix Zoo to show what they have learned.

To find out more, visit www.ProjectZooLab.com.

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