Crit­ters in the class­room

Winnipeg Free Press - Section D - - PET PAGE - By Sue Man­ning

LOS ANGELES — For many chil­dren, their first pet is a vir­tual one. Ex­perts say many chil­dren who en­ter the first grade can play video games but few have a pet to play with. And teach­ers say that’s a shame, con­sid­er­ing how an­i­mals — real ones — can en­rich a child’s up­bring­ing.

So for a quar­ter of a cen­tury, ed­u­ca­tors such as Dawn Slinger in Farm­ing­ton, Minn., have paid out of their own pock­ets to pro­vide one for their class­rooms. Only in the past few years have groups stepped in to help with the fi­nan­cial burden.

Two years ago, Pets in the Class­room, a Mary­land-based project from the non-profit foun­da­tion Pet Care Trust, be­gan of­fer­ing grants to U.S. and Cana­dian teach­ers in grades one through eight. The money can be used to buy starter pets, cages, food and other sup­plies. It is­sued its 10,000th grant this sum­mer.

The $150 grants help off­set the cost of the an­i­mal and its care, which helps teach­ers like Slinger, who has been us­ing her own money, said foun­da­tion ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Steve King. An aquar­ium for a frog could cost more than $100 by it­self.

Teach­ers who ap­ply for a sec­ond year or more get $50 for ad­di­tional equip­ment, food and sup­plies.

Pet Care Trust first started in­tro­duc­ing pets to class­rooms through a joint ven­ture with the Florida Aquar­ium in Tampa five years ago. A class­room fish project gave par­tic­i­pat­ing teach­ers a 560-litre aquar­ium, sup­plies and fish, King said. Nearly 200 class­rooms in the Tampa area got aquar­i­ums, and a sim­i­lar pro­gram was started in Chicago.

Slinger be­lieves the cost is worth the ex­pe­ri­ence for her students. She builds lessons around two minia­ture Rus­sian tor­toises, a fire-belly newt, tree frogs, three types of geckos, sev­eral her­mit crabs, two small ball pythons, a corn snake and a 170-litre tank of fish. Students ob­serve and draw the an­i­mals, and re­search and write about them. When the school year is over, each stu­dent’s work be­comes a book.

Par­ents tell her their chil­dren are in­spired by the an­i­mals and are ex­cited about learn­ing, she said.

She said that out of a class of chil­dren — hers last year had 26 — “maybe six will have pets at home, usu­ally a cat or dog. Not many will have rep­tiles.” Since tak­ing her class, “sev­eral students have got­ten her­mit crabs or fish for their houses. One got a lizard and one is work­ing on a snake.”

The de­ci­sion over what kind of pet to get is the teacher’s. Slinger chose hers be­cause they fas­ci­nate chil­dren, their tem­per­a­ments are right and they don’t bother students with al­ler­gies or asthma, she said.

Con­cerns from par­ents over dis­ease, al­ler­gies and ex­po­sure to waste have led to bans or lim­its on an­i­mals in some class­rooms, al­though ser­vice an­i­mals are al­lowed in most schools. The Pet Care Trust leaves it to the teach­ers to know their students and par­ents, and King said teach­ers and students must fol­low clean­li­ness guide­lines.

Among ap­pli­ca­tions for first-time grants, the most pop­u­lar choices for class­room pets were small mam­mals, like ham­sters, guinea pigs, rats and rab­bits, King said. That was fol­lowed by aquar­ium pets, rep­tiles and am­phib­ians, then birds, he said.

Class­room pets also have been en­light­en­ing for some fam­i­lies. Heidi Keat­ing said her eight-year-old son Wayne has been beg­ging for a snake since he was in Slinger’s class last year.

“First, I said ab­so­lutely no. Then Wayne said, ‘Come see the snakes in class.’ Even Grandma came. We pet­ted it. I never knew they were soft. I am a lit­tle more open at this point,” she said.

Keat­ing said the fam­ily wants to en­cour­age his in­ter­est, so they took Wayne to a rep­tile zoo for his birthday.

“It helps me get over my fears, too,” she said. “I am learn­ing. I am hon­est about it, and he knows I am com­ing along with it. His (five-year-old) sis­ter Quincy is, too. When she had her face painted, she wanted a snake.”

But un­til Wayne is a lit­tle older, he’ll have to set­tle for the four-month-old bas­set hound puppy the Keat­ings got re­cently.

Class­room pets also can be in­cen­tives for good grades, as when some teach­ers al­low students to care for the an­i­mals when school is out, King said. Slinger vis­its her class­room pets two or three times a week dur­ing sum­mers and va­ca­tions.

As for the an­i­mals that don’t re­turn for an­other school year, that’s a learn­ing mo­ment too, King said.

“Life­span is part of the life les­son that comes with hav­ing a class­room pet,” he said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.