GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Some students in West Michigan are getting some animal-friendly lessons outside of the classroom.

John Ball Zoo is offering free field trips for some students in Kent County.

Zoo leaders say these trips are possible thanks to special funding the zoo received back in the 2016. Since then, hundreds of school groups have taken advantage of the free admission.

We talked to the zoo’s education manager about how fun and helpful the trips can be.

“The zoo has always been a resource for teachers. It is a great way to engage students in a different kind of learning,” Rhiannon Mulligan, the education manager for John Ball Zoo, said. “We see a lot of kids that completely come out of their shell, or just have a different connection that they can make in a … setting like the zoo, that they don’t necessarily get in their classroom. Or if they’ve been talking about classification or adaptations and they get to come to the zoo, and see the bears using their claws, or the cats balancing with their tails. It just sort of makes that learning come alive.”

The funding also covers free zoo visits for teachers, bus drivers and several chaperones.

School groups can also add a specialized program to their a trips for a fee. Those programs include what are known as ‘wild encounters,’ where students can meet with one of the zoo’s animals to learn more about them.