It’s called the Zombie Outbreak Response Team or ZORT for short, but this intrepid team of zombie hunters at the University of New Mexico-run AIMS charter school isn’t tracking down the brain-eating parasites. Instead, they are learning about leadership, survival training skills and living history that will help prepare them for real life all under the auspices of a zombie outbreak. 

A variety of lessons are taught to students in grades 6-12 using the above principles and connecting it to a zombie theme to students dressed like military cadets clad in fatigues. The zombie theme-class, which is in its second semester, helped generate interest in the elective class that has three rules: cardio, safety and communication.

“Our leadership program isn’t about zombies, but we dress it up that way so that everyone gets to have a good time,” said Leadership Instructor Jerry Delmore, who teaches the ZORT class along with Don Frazier, who teaches AP World History and U.S. History at AIMS, or Albuquerque Institute for Mathematics and Science. “We teach a living history class and just cover over it with a zombie apocalypse. To make a history class more hands on seemed like a really good idea. For example, if the electricity goes out, we’re going to go back to the 18th century so let’s teach both and it worked out that way.”  

The ZORT or Zombie Outbreak Response Team at the UNM-run AIMS Charter School sits at attention for role call. Photo credit: Steve Carr

The students start out with the small things like learning basic leadership skills and following rules. A few of the other skills students have learned so far include filtering water, planting food, creating a seed bank and renewing crops, sewing, metal casting, fire-starting and how to avoid food-borne illnesses. In the future, plans call for canning food and making materials out of recycled products, including a bows and arrows which ties into the school’s nickname – Archers.

In a day of modern technology and high-tech gadgets, students learn what life was like in the 18th century.

“It’s one thing to read how people lived in the Old West in a book, but it’s quite another thing to have students working a forge, pumping air through it, watching the metal heat up and then turn it into something else or pouring molten metal  into a cast and turning it into something they could use,” Frazier said. “The students really enjoy that and they enjoy seeing objects of their labor coming to life instead of reading it in a book.”

“I’ve learned how to gather materials and recycle them,” ZORT Cadet Shawn Yazzie said. “For example, we broke down some old computers and TVs and got some wire out of them. We recycled the copper and gave it to another class so they could make something out of it.”

While Frazier doesn’t quite understand the concept, he embraces it as a useful concept to help instruct the students. “I’m able to build on it in order to help my students,” he said. “One of the things I love to do in my classes is to teach applied history where kids learn about the ideas and inventions behind the times. We’re going back from the 21st century into a period of time where this doesn’t exist – electricity and modern inventions.

“What we’re trying to do is to take things that have been abandoned and fix them up or adapt them to our usage so that the students can feel confident they can survive anywhere, whether there’s a zombie apocalypse or not. I just love teaching this to my students because they see how old things and their concepts and ideas are as modern as today's.”

Students in the AIMS ZORT class learn basic flag folding skills as part of its leadership training. Photo credit: Steve Carr

Delmore points out that the uniforms are important for a multitude of reasons. “One is for protection of the skin, but second, it shows everybody that you are in a group. And being part of the group is one of the most important things. The students feel they could survive if they were with their group and that identifies the group and helps students learn to follow the rules.

“Followership is actually a higher priority to us than leadership is because as we become good followers, the leadership skills come out,” Delmore said. “If people learn to follow those little rules, they eventually take care of the bigger rules.