In our last blog post, we told you about Kristin Shanley, a science teacher at Bethune Community School in North Minneapolis, and her experience with her classroom pets. Well, Shanley had so many great things to say that we thought we would share a bit more of her experience with you and the lessons her students have learned thanks to her classroom guinea pigs, Cuddles and Bubbles.
First let me begin by telling you about my students. They live in north Minneapolis. Nearly 30% are labeled homeless or highly mobile. We are a 100% free and reduced lunch school. We have a high number of students with severe behavioral problems. These students have dealt with things you and I will thankfully never have to… These two little creatures have made a world of difference.
One day as I was eating my lunch, I heard desks and chairs being slammed to the floor. With each loud crash I heard yelling. I left my desk and entered the room where a very upset and sad boy was ‘letting out his frustrations.’ I knelt beside him and told him he was scaring Cuddles and Bubbles. I told him he was going to pick up the desk and chairs and then write an apology letter to them. I stated that the guinea pigs can’t read but that I would read the apology letter to them. The next day, I was given the letter. It was the sweetest thing I have ever read.
Often times we end our science lesson holding the guinea pigs while we sit in a circle. Some students choose to hold them without a blanket and others like to wrap them up and cradle them as a baby. These students have such gentle hands. I cut up apple slices and we break up pea sized pieces so each student is able to feed them. We listen as the apples crunch. Several students have told me, ‘Mrs. Shanley I have never fed an animal.’
Last year Bubbles got really sick after she had a lump removed. She stopped eating completely and I had no choice but to force feed her and give her medicine to help jump start her system. This was a difficult time for both guinea pigs, the students and me. After the surgery, Bubbles went to school with a partially shaved body, a huge stapled incision and a hand crafted cone for her head. We talked about a vet’s job and the ‘whys’ behind all that had happened. Within a few days after surgery is when she stopped eating. At this time I was teaching a unit on water to both my 4th grade classes. The water unit had several lessons involving measurements. Students needed to take the time to be accurate. I began giving the syringes of pre- measured medicines to Bubbles while the students were with me. I asked my students, ‘What if the doctor wasn’t careful with his measurements? What if he didn’t take the time to be accurate?’ I also had Bubbles on a schedule of three different medicines. Each one had to be given at different times around the clock. I remember asking them, ‘If she needs her next dose in five hours, what time would that be?’ This is authentic learning. This is real life.
As Ms. Shanley stated, classroom pets provide authentic learning. If you or someone you know is interested in obtaining a classroom pet, please visit www.petsintheclassroom.org for more information on the benefits of pets, various pet options, pet care, and how to apply for the Pets in the Classroom grant, which provides funding to purchase and maintain classroom pets.