Open 9 am - 6 pm

Shedd Aquarium Launches Innovative Learning Model for Local High Schools to Create Next Gen Aquatic Advocates

New Shedd Academy extends aquarium’s presence into Chicago communities and classrooms

October 07, 2020

Teens on a field trip in Shedd's learning labs work on identifying specimens in a microscope with a facilitator's help.

More than 2,500 local high school students will have the opportunity to look nature in the eye more directly from the classroom over the next four years as Shedd Aquarium announced today the launch of a new, four-year STEAM (science, technology, education, art and math) education model designed to provide deeper experiences through the lens of the aquatic animal world. The initiative, dubbed Shedd Academy, is a multi-tiered, multi-year commitment to encourage and develop a love of science while building real-world skills and participating in projects aimed at developing solutions for the future.

Schools partnering in the new program starting with the 2020-2021 academic year, include ITW David Speer Academy (Belmont Cragin), Muchin College Prep (Downtown), CICS Northtown Academy (Pulaski Park), St. Ignatius College Prep (Little Italy), St. Laurence High School (Burbank) and Saint Patrick High School (Northwest Side). The six local high schools reach students from all over the Chicagoland area, who represent members of the communities in which the schools are located, as well as those who travel from further afield.

The four-year model was built with sustained learning and growth in mind, beginning with a one-of-a-kind freshman field trip to the aquarium where students explore, make observations, engage with experts to increase their curiosity and compassion for the aquatic world through interactive lessons on scientific concepts, processes and research. The following year, then sophomores will engage with Shedd experts to discover diverse career pathways understanding the full breadth of professional opportunities at the aquarium, or a similar museum setting, and various educational paths that can take them there.

Juniors and seniors have the option to participate in an elective course that focuses on standards from a variety of disciplines to address the scope of aquatic science from biology and ecology to geology and chemistry. Finally, a senior internship is offered to explore careers, practice practical professional skills, collaborate with other teens and professional staff and design real-world solutions for the environment and the aquarium.

“We are committed to making meaningful and lasting progress toward a future where both people and wildlife can thrive, and the most important investment we can make toward this goal is in young people as the next generation of leaders who will protect our shared blue planet,” said Lisa Junkin Lopez, Shedd’s vice president of learning and community. “Shedd has long worked with schools to support learning, and we have heard from our partners about their challenges and how cultural organizations like Shedd can help provide solutions. This initiative is a direct result of that exchange. It expands our presence in schools and paves a way to becoming an integral part of the communities we serve, transforming our impact over time by strengthening our communities and nurturing lifelong champions for the environment.”

Additionally, a new complimentary Professional Learning Community will focus on providing in-person and virtual support to educators as well as creating space for collaboration and resource sharing between Shedd staff and participants. An instrumental support network essential for laying the foundation of the course while enabling dynamic and responsive curriculum that can adapt to current events and needs of each school.

“We are committed to making meaningful and lasting progress toward a future where both people and wildlife can thrive.”

Lisa Junkin Lopez, Shedd’s vice president of learning and community

Schools selected for the launch year were chosen based on the Chicago-area communities they serve and a shared learning philosophy that emphasizes hands-on, inquiry-based experiences on school grounds and offsite. The program was thoughtfully developed and tested with a two-year pilot with ITW David Speer Academy to ensure the modeling solved for the needs and learning challenges in the 21st century.

“When we set out to create a STEM high school in Chicago, we recognized some challenges teaching conservation in an urban setting that makes this critical issue real for learners – that was until partnering with Shedd Aquarium,” said Brittney Coats, Ph.D., dean of science instruction at ITW David Speer Academy. “Through hands-on, science-based conservation experiences from Shedd, we’ve witnessed a passion in our students like never before. This is a dynamic, forward-thinking partnership that goes beyond providing resources, it allows for personalization and collaboration to fit the needs of each individual school and the needs of the students it serves. It has deep and lasting effects on our learners during a critical point of their education when they begin to select interests, form identities and explore what their future holds.”

With Shedd Academy, the aquarium helps fulfill curriculum goals while increasing vital enrichment and mentorship resources to students. The learning program augments formal education and professional skill-building that grows more immersive as students’ competencies develop, and offers more opportunities for youth to connect with nature in ways that allow them to explore, participate, question and uncover the aquatic world with Shedd. Specifically focusing on high school students, Shedd is able to make lasting impacts for young people as they begin to self-select areas of professional interest, form their own identities, and explore their agency to impact the world around them.

Shedd Academy was made possible in part by the generous support of Walder Foundation and other philanthropic partners.

This latest learning initiative demonstrates the aquarium’s commitment to creating opportunities for educators and students to connect to the aquatic animal world. Shedd also offers virtual field trips, limited video series with student activities and educator guides, curricula and lesson plans and much more. To explore more ways to spark students’ interest in science and the natural world, visit:

VISUALS: High resolution photos are available for download: here. Photo credit: ©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez