Furry friends find homes in classrooms across county
By Emily Reed/Special to the Reporter
For guinea pig Charlie, who resides in Catherine Scheller’s third grade class at Meadow View Elementary, not seeing his shadow on Groundhog’s Day helped predict an early spring for Alabaster kids.
“We decided it would be something fun to have an experiment with our class guinea pig on Groundhog’s Day,” Scheller said. “We took Charlie outside to see what he would predict, and we had a lot of fun with it. Since he did not see his shadow, we thought he predicted an early spring, and so far with the warm temperatures we have been having we think he was pretty accurate.”
Charlie’s spring predictions are just part of the fun he, and female guinea pig, Jolene have during school days at Meadow View.
Both Charlie and Jolene make up a group of pets throughout elementary schools in Shelby County that attend school each day alongside students that learn to both love and care for the animals.
“Class pets allow the kids to bond together, and share the responsbility of taking care of a pet,” Scheller said. “In my class, there is always one person per week that has the job of feeding him. They know to check his water, provide him with food such as carrots and celery at the same time each day, and it allows children who are not allowed to have a pet at home the opportunity to interact with them at school.”
Scheller has taught school for 10 years, and has had guinea pigs in her classroom for about eight of them, starting with the first “Miss Piggy.”
“Guinea pigs live for about 6-8 years, they are small, can be contained, and are gentle with kids,” Scheller said. “Class pets teach kids about responsibility, we incorporate the pets in daily activities, and we also use the pets as an incentive.”
Tonya Brooks teaches second grade at Calera Elementary School where guinea pig Allie Bama resides.
Brooks said Allie was acquired when a parent of a kindergarten student did not want the pet, and needed to find a new home for the animal.
“That particular year I had a class with a lot of behavioral issues and had previously taught inner city,” Brooks said. I knew that sometimes having a class pet had a way of calming the class. I accepted the guinea pig from the student and a search for a name started. I had an Alabama themed room, so Allie Bama was the winning name.”
Brooks said if a student ever started to act out in the classroom she would remind them that the guinea pig was scared of loud noises.
“Immediately, the students would calm down, and I allowed them to hold and stroke her fur, which also seemed to calm them,” Brooks said. “Over the years the students have shared the responsibility of taking her home on the holidays to the daily care of food and water. I am still responsible for cleaning her cage, but I think the most fun is hearing the conversations the students have with her. They have no idea I am listening, but Allie Bama is a great listener.”
Forest Oaks Elementary School in Chelsea has a school-wide pet hamster named Humphrey that lives in the library.
Librarian Jill Haglund said oftentimes when new students are starting at the school, meeting Humphrey helps alleviate any fears or worries kids might have.
“Starting school for the first time, or if you are new at a school can be really scary, so coming and meeting Humphrey has become a favorite thing for a lot of the kids,” Haglund said. “Our walls in the library are filled with pictures kids have drawn of their friend, and they really enjoy coming and visiting him.”
Humphrey started living at Forest Oaks in 2014 after a school-wide reading of a book about a hamster named Humphrey.
“We have honestly had a lot of fun with it,” Haglund said. “We have had classrooms that use the incentive to have Humphrey come stay in their class, and the kids enjoy any time they can come pet her.”
Montevallo Elementary School first grade teacher Andrea Lackey kept an aquarium of fish for her class last year.
While Lackey does not currently have the fish this year, she said her students were excited, helpful, and responsible due to having pets in the classroom.
“My students loved watching the peaceful fish tank, and everyone loved coming in my classroom to see the beautiful fish.”
Lackey admits the downfall to having the fish was the work in cleaning the aquarium, and not all of the students were able to assist with caring for the fish due to the fragile nature of the pets.
While all of the pets go home with teachers, or parents during the summer, long weekends, or holidays, some of the pets often stay at the school overnight.
“I have seen a rise in teachers getting pets for their classrooms throughout the years,” Scheller said. “It is a great learning tool, we read a lot of books on guinea pigs, and I have been really impressed with my students for being so diligent each day to remember the responsibility of taking care of the animals.”