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Volunteer Profile: Brittney Polly, Wildlife Champions Assistant
Volunteer Profile: Brittney Polly, Wildlife Champions Assistant

Second graders at Arlington Elementary School got decked out in matching blue coats. There were excited giggles and chatter as they prepared to leave their classroom and venture into their South Tacoma neighborhood park for hands-on learning.

“Miss Brittney, can you help me with my jacket?” one child asked.

“Me, too,” others chimed in.

Miss Brittney is Brittney Polly, and she has been volunteering with the Wildlife Champions program for two years. Recognizing Brittney during Volunteer Appreciation week, April 21-27, is a natural choice. We thank her for the hard work and care she gives to both the students and staff.

Spending time with the kids outside is one of her favorite things to do, and it is safe to say the feeling is mutual on this sunny afternoon as the kids prepare to head out to nearby Oak Tree Park.

Arlington Elementary is one of two Tacoma public schools (Lister Elementary is the other) that is part of the Wildlife Champions program, a long-term partnership between the Zoo, Metro Parks Tacoma, and Tacoma Public Schools.

Volunteers like Polly make this award-winning program possible. If you’ve ever taken little ones to a park, imagine being responsible for the well-being and education of about 30 at once. It indeed takes a village, and Polly is thrilled to be part of it. She joins a team of other adults, including the teacher and Zoo staff, who all have their hands full, engaging the kids as they explore and learn more about their natural neighborhood.

The program’s goals are for students to gain an understanding of wildlife and to practice empathy for wildlife, all while becoming stewards of their schools, their local parks, and their neighborhoods. Their lessons start in the classroom and follow through into the outdoors. Polly is helping each step of the way.

“She is so great with the kids,” said Liz Hines, community engagement coordinator at the Zoo. “She takes time to get to know each one. She’s a leader in the program now and kids know her as Miss Brittney.”


Polly learned about Wildlife Champions and other volunteer opportunities at the zoo when she was a student at Tacoma’s Science and Math Institute (SAMi), a public high school at Point Defiance Park. Before she started her studies at Tacoma Community College to become a paraeducator, Polly volunteered every day during the students’ visits to the park with Wildlife Champions. Now, she comes as often as her studies allow—still several times a week.

“It is a perfect fit,” Polly said. “I get to watch the teachers, learn how to create lesson plans, and see how students interact with us, in class, and outside.”

Polly is playful and engaged, and happy to pull out her phone and find answers to questions she doesn’t know the answers to. Kids this age can come up with some doozies.

During a recent park outing, she helped the kids plant camas bulbs, a native plant in Oak Tree Park. They saw something wiggle as they dug holes and twisted and turned short-handled bulb planters into the earth. A group began to form in true second-grade fashion, and a few kids screamed. “I see a dead bug,” one girl said. “Oh, no! It’s moving!”

Polly held the tiny beetle in her hands to keep it safe while the kids got a closer look. Then she told them to keep digging, and when their camas bulb was in the hole, she returned the beetle to its home. Just another unscripted lesson about caring for nature and the environment. It turns out learning happens naturally when kids are immersed in their environment.


Stacey Luhring, the Zoo’s volunteer engagement coordinator, supports the Wildlife Champions program during park visits, but she says it’s volunteers, like Polly, who really make Wildlife Champions possible.

“Our volunteers help us build deeper connections to nature with people in our schools and community,” Luhring said.

Polly loves to volunteer with the Zoo and kids and said that even on her birthday, she chose to be here.

“It’s fun,” she said as she led the kids to the park. “You get to meet new people. If you’re interested in getting into teaching, this is a great place to get some hands-on learning. I get to spend time with all of these intelligent people and soak up all that knowledge. It’s amazing and so rewarding.”

Point defiance Zoo & Aquarium celebrates volunteers during Volunteer Appreciation Week from April 21-27. Learn more about volunteer opportunities here.