Shalla Sorensen is a junior at Palmetto High School and loves to be a volunteer at ZooMiami in the Conservation Teen Scientist program. Being a part of the program allows her to engage with the public about conservation and animals.
“We talk to the people about the animals at the zoo,” she says. “Mostly we try to inspire them to conserve.”
The teens learn about the bio diversity of the earth and try to pass that knowledge on to people who visit the zoo.
“We also get to help out at the children’s zoo,” Sorensen says. “Behind the scenes we get to help out the zookeepers. We get to help them set up for something known as enrichment.”
Enrichment is when you give something to the animals that stimulates their instincts. The idea behind enrichment is to prevent boredom.
“We’ll put in different scents. Sometimes they can paint,” she says. “The Shetland ponies, we give them a paintbrush and paints. They have special brushes they can put in their mouths. They’ll start painting away on the canvas.”
Sorensen says the teens will sometime play music for the animals. Other times, they give them different foods.
“It’s adorable. Especially if its peanut butter,” she says.
They’ll give peanut butter to the lemurs and Cheerios to the parrots. Sheep and goats get fruit.
“They’re not very picky. They just love food,” Sorensen says.
Initially, Sorensen went to the zoo because of her interest in photography. Then she wondered if there was a program that she could volunteer for. She got into the program in its second year. Sorensen has been volunteering there since her freshman year at Palmetto.
“I try to go once a week,” she says.
Sorensen is also involved in many activities at Palmetto. She’s in CLEO, a youth task force that educates others on climate change. These days, talking to people about conservation and climate change can be difficult because there are many who deny climate change.
“When you meet someone who denies, you don’t want to oppose them, you don’t want to fight them, you have to try to educate them,” she says. “One of my remedies is to educate.”
CLEO now has a student-run government club at Palmetto.
Sorensen says the club promotes green policies at the school. It is also in charge of an environmental fair.
“We invite a lot of professional speakers within different fields in science,” she says.
The Youth Task Force is composed of students from different schools including Coral Reef, Palmetto and Lourdes.
“We come together and discuss events relevant to climate change,” she says. “In October there was King Tides Day. It was an event that has relations with the group Eyes on the Ride. We went down there (South Beach) to document the event. Usually during king tides there is a lot of flooding.”
This time, the flooding was not an issue. The students were able to document the situation and they listened to a number of speakers, including Sen. Whitehouse from Rhode Island.
Sorensen is vice president of the biology club and historian of the Science National Honor Society. She participates in many competitions, including Envirothon, Chemithon and Fairchild Challenge.
This summer, Sorensen will attend college classes at Stanford University’s summer program. Currently, Stanford is her top choice for college. She is considering majoring in environmental science, biochemistry or neurology.
By Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld