With a line of pre-schoolers, faculty and staff marching and beating drums, the San Antonio Zoo officially opened the $17 million Will Smith Zoo School on Wednesday morning.
The children, ages 3-5, will spend half of their day outside, exploring flora and fauna that make up part of their curriculum at the nature-based preschool located at 103 Tuleta Dr.
Currently 118 children attend the 10-classroom school.
The school initially started in 2014 with four students.
Zoo officials said enrollment is expected to grow to 200 students in four years.
The school is named in honor of Zoo board member Susan Naylor’s late son, who loved spending time at the zoo and outdoors in nature.
Naylor, a longtime zoo supporter and lead donor, said the only word she could think of to describe the school is “powerful.”
In 1947, the first classrooms opened at the building when it was the Sunshine Cottage School for deaf children, promoting listening and spoken language. Remnants of the school still remain, like the area where a sound booth once stood.
The building was later the home of the KIPP Esperanza Dual Language Academy that featured a bilingual and bi-literate curriculum to prepare students for college and beyond.
Zoo CEO and executive director Tim Morrow said their vision is to become the largest nature preschool in the nation.
“Every aspect, every inch of this campus speaks to conservation," Morrow said, “and education, which is the mission of the San Antonio Zoological Society.”