Why is that man dressed as an animal?

Swift Gekkering LessonThat’s our shtick! Nick Hadad dons the persona of one of ROC Animal School’s talking characters to become an animal ambassador and intermediary between humans and animals. Since most animals cannot speak, we need someone who can tell people all about different creatures in the Animal Kingdom, from the animals’ perspective. ROC Animal School teaches people where these animals live, what they eat, how they hunt, how they impact their ecosystems, how their social groups and hierarchies work, and why they matter to humans. Like mascot versions of Jane Goodall, our characters give audiences an inside look at the lives of animals from around the world.

Moreover, because some animals, such as wolves or eagles, can be intimidating or uncommon for people to come across, our pack serves as their surrogates. ROC Animal School’s characters are authorities on their species as well as fellow wildlife, so people can ask them questions about all sorts of creatures in the Animal Kingdom!

With our big fluffy mascots, kids do not need to feel afraid or intimidated. They can join our pack with ease and start a dialogue about animals with our pack leaders.

What is ROC Animal School? What do you do?Howler Reading

ROC Animal School is a collection of programs that uses talking animal characters – i.e., mascots – to teach people of all ages about wild and domesticated animals through interactive demonstrations. Run by Nick Hadad and Katie Gill, ROC Animal School educates people about animals from around the world, covering topics such as how animals impact their ecosystems and why they matter to humans. Our goals are to debunk common misconceptions about various creatures, to make people interested in learning more about animals and ecology, and to promote conservation, environmentalism, biodiversity, animal care, sustainability, education, research and empathy.

ROC Animal School aims to expose people to creatures from around the world and give individuals a new appreciation for the ones in their own backyards. We want to inspire our audiences to have compassion for animals from all walks of life. In short, we want to make you love and respect animals as much as we do!

We encourage people to join our pack and learn the who, what, where, when, why, and how’s of animal survival techniques. We want folks to ask our talking creatures questions, since most wildlife do not tend to speak English or live among humans.

You can book ROC Animal School for all sorts of events and programs. ROC Animal School’s characters are available to educate, or simply to come to your family-friendly event as a fun mascot to hang out with! We can perform one of our pre-existing programs for you, or work with you to build one that fits your theme or event!

See our About page for more information.

Who runs ROC Animal School? What are their backgrounds?

ROC Animal School is a mom-and-pop operation, with Nick Hadad at the helm of event coordination and performances, and Katie Gill managing multimedia marketing and production.

Nick and Goose
Nick and Gracie

Nick has been performing for wildlife education programs since 2011. However, his passion and empathy for animals started long before.

He spent his teen years as an animal rehabilitator, and when he moved to Upstate New York in 2005, he became involved with several animal-related nonprofits, including Braddock Bay Raptor Research, the Seneca Park Zoo, various animal adoption shelters and rescue groups, and the Genesee Country Nature Center.

Nick has also been a slew of animals. He has performed as a mascot since 2001, and has made a profession of it, doing everything from event planning and coordination to costume repairs and community outreach. Nick has worked with all of the major sports teams in Rochester since coming here. Though, due to years of wear-and-tear, he retired from sports mascoting in 2017 and is now focusing on wildlife education performances.

He decided to merge his passion for wildlife with his professional experience by starting ROC Animal School, and with Katie’s help, the program took its recent form in May 2016.

Nick met Katie at SUNY Brockport in Spring 2009.

Katie Profile Pic

They were taking a playwriting class together. In the middle of the semester, Nick got in a car accident. When he returned to class, Katie greeted him and then proceeded to joke about his shoulder injury. She played on the fact that he was their school’s mascot, Ellsworth the Golden Eagle, by flapping around and saying “pray for Ellsworth.” Nick laughed and then started talking about how hungry he was, so Katie threw him a bag of gourmet strawberry licorice.

One night at a cancer benefit, Nick was performing as Ellsworth when he came across Katie, alone in the crowd. He put his wing around her without saying a word, and her response was, “Nick, if I didn’t know that was you, I’d be so creeped out right now.” They will be celebrating their tenth year together this May.

While Nick has his Bachelor’s degree in public relations and theater, Katie’s is in journalism, English and art. An equally talented, driven and versatile performer as Nick, she handles the multimedia aspects of ROC Animal School, creating promotional materials and handouts, managing the various social media pages, creating content and coming up with new features for the business. While not as extensively experienced with wildlife as Nick, Katie brings a love for animals coupled with a thirst for knowledge and a desire to create dialogues with others about the world around us. She is also obsessed with the arts, caffeine, various media, sciences, and animals, specifically the couple’s polydactyl Maine Coon, Gracie, who recently turned eight.

Where do you perform?

We go where nature takes us! Specifically, ROC Animal School travels around Monroe County (NY) and surrounding areas for all sorts of events and programs. Though we do not currently have a set location at which people can come watch us perform, we do perform at a variety of venues, which include:

  • Schools
  • Afterschool Programs
  • Day Cares
  • Community Centers
  • Nature Centers
  • Summer Camps
  • Educational Programs
  • Libraries
  • Senior Centers
  • Town Festivals
  • Holiday Events
  • Birthday Parties
  • Farmers Markets

How much does a program cost, and why?

Cost for a one-hour educational program ranges from $50 to $75 based on audience size, location and amount of customization involved. Cost for a birthday appearance is $50.

We are a mom-and-pop run operation, so materials, production and performance fees, and travel are included in this estimate. We generally stay within the greater Rochester, NY area to keep fees low, though we will travel outside Monroe County for an additional fee.

Do you offer anything free?

Tons of stuff! Because we want to get people interested in animals and their effects on the world, we make sure to spread the word around social media! ROC Animal School is on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and WordPress. Pictures, videos, blog posts, behind-the-scene updates, animal-related news and, of course, a bevy of fun animal facts are available for free online! We also try to upload our handouts, such as brochures, drawing pages and presentations onto our blog as often as possible, so visual, aural and tactile learners can all get something out of our programs!

What characters do you have?

The number changes all the time! At present, we have ten educational characters and four entertainment characters available for programs and events. For educational characters, we have Howler Wolf, Kele Kestrel, Thor the Marble Fox, Oslo the Owl, Swift the Red Fox, Skye the Bald Eagle, Dakota Coyote, Talon Hawk, Sylvan T. Salvar the Raccoon and Inola the Arctic Fox. For characters used as entertainment at parties and festivals, we have an Easter Bunny, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Lucky the Turkey and, for a fun mythical change of pace, Dazzle the Unicorn.

How do I contact you for more information?

The best way to get in touch with Animal School is through Nick’s email, nickhadad12@gmail.com. He is our Event Coordinator and Performer, so he will have all the details you need to set up an appearance or program. You can also contact us through Twitter and Facebook.


Until next time, friends: keep your wild side roaring.