Meet our June Featured Teacher, Christina Cunningham!  Ms. Cunningham is the 5th grade teacher at Imagine Chancellor in Delray Beach, Florida.   Her classroom pet, Taki the Bearded Dragon, is beloved by students and Ms. Cunningham, and is making a difference in the classroom, too!

How long have you had your classroom pet? We have had Taki since October, 2018.

How did you hear about the Pets in the Classroom grant program? I heard about this program from another teacher during my first year as a teacher.

Why did you decide to get a classroom pet? A teacher who was on my team had a bearded dragon and my students were so excited to go to her classroom every day. I thought it was incredible how the students would work hard to be able to have the bearded dragon at their desk with them while completing any school work. Not all students are able to have pets at home, so it is so nice to see them be able to interact with a pet at school.

Tell us a little bit about your classroom pet: Our classroom pet “Taki” is such a sweet and calm animal. My classroom took a vote on what to name him. We decided Taki was the best because many students eat the hot chips called “Takis” during snack and love them, so “Taki” seemed fitting since a bearded dragon has to live in a hot environment. When we first got Taki he was only 7 inches. He is now well over a foot long. He loves a good chin and belly rub. He has never once shown any sign of aggression. He is the perfect classroom pet!

How do you use your classroom pet to facilitate learning?

In my classroom students work hard every day to earn “brag tags” during school which are used as incentives. At the end of every week or every other week, I collect brag tags and students can pick from a list of rewards. Spending the day with Taki and feeding him is on the list of rewards, and it is also the most popular. My students demonstrate positive behavior, turn in homework every day, and maintain good grades to ensure they are able to earn brag tags so they can hang with Taki. Just this week I have had two students who earned the most brag tags and they each picked a different day to work with Taki. They feed him, snuggle him, and let him hang on their desk while they work.

What is your favorite thing about having a classroom pet?

My favorite thing about having Taki in our classroom is that he brings light and joy to everyone comes in contact with. He is so docile and easy going. Any student can pet or hold him without the tiniest bit of worry. It is so nice to look over and see him doing something funny when I am on my lunch break or in the middle of class. He is so special and a big part of our family at school.

Did you see an improvement in your classroom due to the classroom pet (specific stories are appreciated)?

Absolutely! Taki has made a dramatic difference in all aspects in the classroom. Students who have had behavior issues in the past are calmer when Taki is around. Additionally, those students strive to demonstrate their best behavior to earn classroom incentives so that they can spend time with Taki. Students are learning responsibility by offering to clean Taki’s water bowl every morning and cleaning his cage. Students who I never imagined would want to clean offer every day to clean his cage, just so they can help out and be around Taki! Students perform well in school and make sure they do all of their homework so they can receive an incentive which can help the chance of them spending time with Taki as well.

What advice do you have for teachers who are thinking of getting a classroom pet?

Be prepared to fall in love with your pet! I did not realize that Taki would have such an impact on my life as well. I look forward to hanging out with him on the weekend. Make sure you send a newsletter out about your new pet so parents are aware. I have had parents bring in specific food for Taki, and offer to take care of him if need be. Also, be prepared to get an extra enclosure for your pet if you plan on taking him/her home on the weekends.

Do you have any tips on caring for your classroom pet?

Be prepared to give lots of love, patience, and food!! Make sure you have a plan for what you are going to do with your pet over the weekend. Utilize the pet in many different ways to foster academic growth in the classroom, as well as behavior.

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