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These pets have class

August 23, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

Hershey and Cheddar are both male gerbils, which is according to plan for Jenny Blum, a fourth-grade teacher at Pangborn Elementary School in Hagerstown.

Four years ago, as a student teacher, she thought both gerbils she had were males - until one had babies.

Amanda Arnett, a third-grade teacher at Pangborn, has no such reproductive worries.

She is in charge of Cricket, a lone male gecko named after what he eats.

Both teachers said class pets have their virtues, especially for the learning they subtly inspire.

"It's a way to get kids interested in informational texts," said Blum, who also keeps a tank of fish in her classroom.

When her class learns about the tropical rain forest, students read up on fish.

Children who otherwise wouldn't read get inspired and want to know more about the creatures in front of them, Blum said.

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She received the fish through a PETsMART program called Aquademics.

Blum said she has about a dozen zebra danios, leopard danios and Mickey Mouse fish, as well as an algae eater - and a glass catfish she bought on her own.

Arnett said that when her class studies habitats, children build their own.

When Cricket is hungry for a meal of crickets, "I pick (a student) who needs extra responsibility" to feed the gecko, she said. "It affects the child's self-esteem. It makes them feel special."

Arnett said Cricket is unobtrusive.

"It's a wonderful pet," she said. "It doesn't smell. It just has water and crickets. It's quiet. It just lays around."

Jean Squires, who teaches fifth-grade at U.L. Gordy Elementary School in Chambersburg, Pa., can relate.

Her class hamster, Squirt, is low maintenance. That is, not counting the first time someone picked him up and he "squirted," which is how he got his name.

Before Squirt, Squires had a rabbit named Callie in her class.

But rabbits "are really stinky and take a lot of work," she said. "And they chew on cords."

Squires said Gordy fourth-grade teacher Bernadette Benbow had a snake in her class last year. As part of their science and math lessons, Benbow's students weighed, measured and fed it.

Squirt, though, is more for fun than learning, Squires said.

A random survey of several other Tri-State area elementary schools found that a few other teachers keep fish, hamsters or other small pets.

Some teachers bring pets home with them over the summer, while others hold drawings to pick a student to hold onto the pet, if a parent approves.

At a couple of schools, employees said class animals are not as popular as they once were because children might be allergic.

"Do NOT get a pet," the Minnesota Branch of the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science Inc. says at its Web site, "if you answer: To interest the students. To be a 'popular' classroom. Because someone you know has a pet that needs another home. To teach kids responsibility - kids need to be responsible BEFORE they get a pet."

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