Teachers Receive Help Getting Pets in the Classroom

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Hailey Fink gets acquainted with a corn snake in the first grade classroom of Dawn Slinger in Farmington, Minn.; Photo Credit: Photo by Jim Mone

Many teachers believe that real animals in the classroom can enrich a child’s educational experience. Experts agree that many students that enter the first grade can play a video game but very few have a pet to play with. The only problem is the cost involved is usually shouldered by the teacher.

Educators like Dawn Slinger of Framingham, Minnesota, believe in having animals in the classroom and have paid for them out of her own pocket for over 25 years. Slinger believes it is worth cost for the benefits to her students. Parents tell her their children are inspired by the animals and are excited about learning, she said.

The kind of pets to include in the classroom and curriculum ultimately rests with the teacher. Slinger chooses her pets based on how fascinated the children are with the pet and if the pets are even tempered. Also, she makes sure they won’t bother students with allergies or asthma.

Until recently there has been no financial help. However, two years ago a project was formed called Pets in the Classroom, a Maryland based nonprofit foundation know as the Pet Care Trust began offering grants to schools in Canada and the U.S, to help teachers like Slinger in grades one through eight. The grant money can be used to buy food, cages, supplies and the pets themselves.

Grants in the amount of $150 help to cover some of the costs currently shouldered by many teachers like Slinger. Pet Care Trust started the program five years ago as a joint venture with the Aquarium in Tampa.

Out of the 26 students in Slingers class last year “maybe six will have pets at home, usually a cat or dog. Not many will have reptiles.” Since taking her class, “several students have gotten hermit crabs or fish for their houses. One got a lizard and one is working on a snake.”

Slinger has built her lessons around the animals which include two miniature Russian tortoises, a fire-belly newt, tree frogs, three types of gecko, several hermit crabs, two small ball pythons, a corn snake and a 45 gallon fish tank. At the end of each year her student’s work becomes a book they can keep along with the memories.