Say hello to Betty Anne Wright, PhD! She is a 7th grade, special education teacher at Madison Junior High in Rexburg, Idaho. Ms. Wright has a Pueblo Milk Snake named Freckles and is our featured teacher for the month of May.

How long have you had Freckles?

I got Freckles as a baby two years ago with the grant from Pets In the Classroom.

Why did I decide to get a classroom pet?

You mean, Another classroom pet? I have had pets ever since I started teaching. For a while I had rats, and then tarantulas (which I still have). I had the rats when I was in a different building where I had a sink in the classroom, that was handy as rat cages need to be cleaned every week. However, after the 7th grade was moved to a different building, I no longer had a sink, so I gave the rats to a good home.  I was already interested in tarantulas (which has led to a Tarantula group here at the school where we usually get baby tarantulas and let students raise them and keep them). I work with students that struggle with school, and spend much of my time being a cheerleader “you can do it, let’s try again”. Having pets in my room makes it more of a “cool” room and not so much the room you have to go to because school is harder for you than for other students. 

Why did you pick a snake?

Some of our science teachers have snakes and I was intrigued by them, so I decided to get one. The other teachers have a variety of corn snakes, so I wanted something different, and a milk snake would allow me to teach about mimicry and how the colors of the milk snake are very close to those of the venomous Coral snake, and how to tell them apart. So I was grateful for the chance to get her. Freckles started out so tiny, about the width of a pencil, but longer.  By the pictures you can see that she has grown a lot, and will continue to grow.  She started off very skittish, but has mellowed down.  I have students begging to hold her (or one of my other two snakes) every day.

Did you see an improvement in your classroom because of Freckles?

One particular student this year is a young man with autism. He struggles with some of the social cues, and he struggles with academics as well, but he loves to hold Freckles.  He will work to get his assignments finished so that he can have time to hold her. I have had students that were afraid of snakes come to realize that there is nothing to fear and enjoy holding them. 

How do you use your classroom pet to facilitate learning?

Tarantula Appreciation Week (with other critters included) takes place in the school library. We are there in the morning until the first bell rings for class, and again during FLEX (a 1/2 hour period where students who need extra help can get it from their teachers, while the rest of the students can do activities in the building, leaving the teachers free to work one-on-one or in small groups with those that need it). We have crowds of students come to the library, and even some adults (parents, para-educators, test proctors, as well as teachers) come to the library to meet, learn about, and hold. I had Freckles there today, and I got through the door with her, and then she went with students and was passed from one to another, with some of the students “taking charge” to make sure that she was treated appropriately. Experiences like this have helped a lot of people get over fears and touch or even hold a critter and find that it is not as scary as they thought.

During the summer, when they all come home with me, I will often have visits from Cub Scouts and others who want to experience snakes and tarantulas.  Strangely, the adults often stay outside on the deck while the young people crowd around for a chance to hold and interact.


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