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Chelsea High School students have chance to work with zoo animals

Kersch Ray unlocks one of the animal's cages at the Great Lakes Zoological Society.

You might call Brian Fuller, Quentin Pappas and Kersch Ray, the zoo crew because every Thursday they spend part of their school day working at the Great Lakes Zoological Society.

Quentin Pappas feeds one of the animals.

The three Chelsea High School students are part of a vocational program through which they learn employment skills while on the job and new this year is a chance to work at the zoo on Jackson Road in Scio Township.

The students learn things like being on time, remembering to wear a uniform, staying on task and different job skills through the special high school program.

Plus, how many people can say they’ve worked at a zoo?

The trio works as a team to take care of some of the about 150 animals or 70 species at the zoo, which include turtles, tortoises, lizards, snakes, scorpions, tarantulas, spiders, parrots, millipedes and frogs.

And, they get some help learning about the individual animals from zoo volunteers such as Jared Vlitala while working under the watchful eye of teacher Katy Fillion.

Ray is the keeper of the special key that unlocks the animals cages.

“Kersch directs them; he locks and unlocks the cages, and helps them make the call” on whether the animals are calm enough to safely have their water bowls removed, cleaned, refilled, and replaced Fillion said.

No one wants an animal to make a break for it and escape from an enclosure, so the three work together — six pairs of eyes watching the animals as they change their water and clean their cages. (The students don’t work with the more aggressive or poisonous inhabitants of the zoo.)

Ray, who calls himself a “fresh-more,” said he really likes the snakes.

“I unlock the doors and watch over people when they take out the water,” he said, then when the task is complete, he re-locks and double checks that the cages are secure.

Pappas, a freshman, agreed. “I like the snakes best. My family has snakes,” he said.

The spiders that are on display are another story, however. Pappas said he’s not fond of them and neither was Ray.

Zoo volunteer Jarek Vlitala and a Rhino Iguana.

Fuller, a senior, said he likes changing the water on the humidifiers, which keeps the animals moist, but he didn’t really have a favorite species.

This is the first time students from the high school have worked at the zoo, Fillion said, although other students have worked at Chelsea Community Hospital and Chelsea Retirement Community as well as at various restaurants as part of the vocational program.

Fuller said he hopes to get a business degree and open his own gym. Pappas said he wasn’t sure what he wants to do after high school,but Ray wants to go on to college and then to medical school.

The students work each Thursday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the zoo, and recently, they even helped dish out “salads” for the reptiles, turtles and tortoises.

The three students are not only learning job skills, but also working in a unique environment that not many people can say they’ve experienced.

Brian Fuller and Quentin Pappas dole out a special salad to feed some of the animals.
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