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Chicago's Shedd Aquarium to open new learning center, launch new education programs

Shedd Aquarium announces new learning hub
Shedd Aquarium announces new learning hub 00:25

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Shedd Aquarium announced Friday that it is diving into a new education initiative.

The aquarium said it will soon break ground on a new structure just steps away from its galleries. The Morgridge Family Lakeside Learning Studios—set to open in 2026—will feature "flexible, buzzing classrooms" that will host animal encounters and aquatic investigations, according to a news release.

Students might one day look right in the eyes of a yell-footed tortoise; another day chat virtually with researchers working in the Caribbean, Great Lakes or Latin America; and another day still build bug hotels for bees and monarch butterflies, the aquarium said.

The new facility will allow the aquarium to accommodate more school groups, and reach up to 50,000 more students a year, the aquarium said.

The Shedd is also reimagining new, bilingual and science-focused galleries. Two of them—Wonder of Water and Amazon Rising—are to open this year, the aquarium said.

"Shedd Aquarium is one of our District's amazing and longstanding community partners," Chicago Public Schools chief executive officer Pedro Martinez said in the release. "We are thrilled by the aquarium's dedication to welcoming more CPS students each year for hands-on learning and awe-inspiring exhibits and events. These new investments and this important focus on environmental education will only continue to enhance opportunities and education for our students."

Further, the aquarium is expanding its offsite programming—reaching out directly to classrooms and communities, and getting students into nature.

More than 25 programs for K-12 students—inside and outside schools—will pair nature-based experiences and hands-on science education, the aquarium said. The young people will test water in local lagoons and compare them to habitats at the aquarium, take field surveys to identify insects and native plant seedlings to help with environmental restoration, or urge local restaurants to reduce plastic waste, the aquarium said.

"Every young person in Chicago should experience the wonder of the aquatic world barrier-free – everything from planting native seedlings along the shores of Lake Michigan to kayaking the Chicago River or counting the suckers on an octopus right here at Shedd Aquarium," Lisa Junkin-Lopez, Vice President of Learning & Community at the Shedd Aquarium, said in the release. "By expanding access to environmental education, we can empower Chicago's next generation to be the changemakers for tomorrow's blue futures."

The aquarium is also launching a focus on equity in science learning—specifically better serving communities on eth city's South and West Side neighborhoods that bear the brunt of the worst environmental issues.

"Historically, not all Chicagoans have benefitted from everything our city has to offer," Ald. Lamont Robinson (4th) said in the release. "I am proud to have institutions like Shedd Aquarium in the 4th Ward who are taking steps to correct those disparities and give all Chicago students meaningful opportunities to learn about and be inspired by the world around them."

The program is part of the aquarium's Centennial Commitment—which is geared toward improving access and connection to nature and stewardship opportunities for all. The Shedd will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2030.

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