Zoo School is turning 50.

And “Zooies” from the past half century are invited back to celebrate on October 14 from 2-7 pm at the school (located inside John Ball Zoo).

The event will be open-house style. Admission is free and includes a taco dinner, fry bread, music, games and activities, and more.

And, for just $12, attendees can add a special 50th anniversary t-shirt that they can tie-dye at the event. That $12 charge also includes admission to the John Ball Zoo, giving former Zooies several hours to explore their alma mater’s home since 1973.

To register for the event and/or to purchase the ticket and T-shirt combo, go to: https://cityptsa.com/product/zoo-school-50th-anniversary/

Founded in 1973, Zoo School annually brings some 60 sixth graders together for what principal Brad Lundvick said is one of the most unique theme schools in GRPS.

“Our Zooies are immersed in a learning atmosphere that includes not just our classrooms, but the entire John Ball Zoo and Park,” he said. “Being at Zoo School prepares scholars for middle and high school with fun, challenging and intense learning. We believe that our small sixth-grade program creates memories that last a lifetime, making all who attend Zoo School part of our big Zoo School family.”

Those organizing the October 14 event agree.

Stacia (Fejedelem) Barczak, Zoo School Class of 1986, is one of the volunteers planning the October 14 event.

She said that while many might not remember their sixth-grade academic year, hers is crystallized in her memory.

“My connection is sparked any time I see a ginkgo leaf or hear a John Denver song,” she said with a smile. “The opportunity to engage in environmental education sets the stage for curiosity in learning in a way other experiences can't. My sixth-grade math wasn't textbook. It was ‘Go figure out how tall that tree is.’ I learned problem-solving by being handed a compass and being told to find my way back to camp. My physical education was learning how to steer a canoe—and carry that canoe!”

Barczak is working to organize the upcoming event with Stacey (McClellan) Smith, whom she has known since the age of 4.

Together the pair is hopeful that the October 14 reunion will allow past scholars to reconnect with others from their class as well as with school staff and faculty past and present. They also hope the event highlights the commitment to excellence in education offered by Grand Rapids Public Schools.

Zoo School’s home base is a brick building on John Ball Zoo property (accessible without having to pay to enter the Zoo), but much of the learning happens outside the four walls of the building’s classrooms.

The Zoo School curriculum is led by two teachers and explores not just the core content areas but also topics such as astronomy, zoology, forestry, chemistry and physics. Scholars do everything from animal feeding and raising salmon to recycling and water sampling. They also participate in two camping trips during the school year.

In the past decade, it was named one of the most innovative schools in America.