What would you think if you heard a special education teacher say:

“[It] helped one of my non-verbal students with autism in ways unimaginable. That student is now speaking in 3 to 4 word sentences/phrases!  Behavior problems have reduced to a minimum, and 80% of my students’ reading levels have improved.”

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Lil Man, the 5 foot male iguana that joins the classroom a couple times a month, reading with one of the students.

This is exactly what Josh Renaud, Grade 3-5 Special Needs Self-Contained Teacher at Chester Park School of the Arts in Chester, SC said about his classroom pet, a bearded dragon named Claude.  Claude has made such a difference in Mr. Renaud’s classroom that he has added additional reptiles to the classroom  (a baby Cuban Rock Iguana, two baby Sulcata Tortoises, and a a 5 foot male iguana that joins the classroom a couple times a month), three other teachers have adopted Claude’s offspring into their classrooms, and the Assistant Principal adopted one into her office to help assist her with behavior problems that she is presented with.

The benefits that Mr. Renaud saw in his classroom are not uncommon.  According to a study conducted by the American Humane Association,  a class pet can teach children important values like compassion, empathy, respect, and responsibility for other living things, as well as give them much-needed leadership skills and stress relief.

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Lil Man reading with another student.

While the educators at Chester Park School of the Arts are experiencing these benefits from their current classroom pets, their understanding of the growth that these pets can provide has led to a long term plan:

“Our Principal provided funds for us to purchase two baby Sulcata (African Spur Thigh) Tortoises, “said Renaud. “They are also currently residing in my classroom. However, as a school we have big plans for them, for when they become adults (in the next 5-10 years), that involves building an outdoor enclosure for them; along with a greenhouse to incorporate health and nutrition as we grow the vegetation for them (and other our other class pets) on site.”

Claude, who is currently residing at Mr. Renaud’s house as he is battling old age, has left quite the legacy at the school and with the students.  From the impact he made on the students, to the impact his offspring is making on other students, to the future plans that will lead to more educational opportunities, this little pet has made a big difference.

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