Pets in the Classroom is forging a link between teachers, students and pet retailers.
Another school year has come to a close in most areas of the country, and more classrooms than ever were enriched with the addition of a classroom pet, thanks to a grant from the Pet Care Trust. More than 22,700 Pets in the Classroom grants were awarded during the 2017-2018 school year. This is the largest number of grants awarded in a single year, bringing the total number of grants to 117,800 since the program’s inception in 2011.
While the numbers are impressive, it’s the impact that these pets are having on millions of students—pre-K to 9th graders—that is the real story behind Pets in the Classroom. A survey conducted last month of teachers who have received Pets in the Classroom grants within the past two years received , overwhelmingly positive responses. It’s clear that these miniature classmates are more than just another teaching tool.
Seventy percent of teachers incorporate their pet into their classroom curriculum at least one to two times per week. Nearly 50 percent do so every day. “Having our dwarf hamster, Petunia Roo, has been amazing!” commented one teacher. “My second graders are eager to greet her each day, read to her, clean her cage, feed her nutritious snacks, draw her pictures, write/read letters to her, etc. Petunia Roo has helped my children become incredibly responsible!”
The Pet Care Trust has just launched its third annual Lesson Plan Contest, where teachers enter their lesson plans that incorporate their classroom pet for a chance to win one of nine $100 gift cards. More than 150 lesson plans from prior years are posted on the Pets in the Classroom website for teachers to download and use in their classrooms.
Improving Behavior & Performance
The benefits of classroom pets cover a wide range of behavioral and school performance attributes. Teachers noted improvement in student responsibility and engagement as the most notable benefits, with increased empathy/compassion and collaboration among students also observed.
One teacher responded, “Every student gets a job, and the student who is the ‘pet caretaker’ checks on our bunny daily, giving him water, food, timothy hay, treats and extra love. Our kindergarten students may also talk to the rabbit if they are sad or upset, because he has great ‘listening ears.’ He even gets books read to him on a daily basis.”
Impacting Special Needs Students
While all children seem to have a special bond with animals, teachers of special needs students often remark on the impact that their classroom pets have had on these students. “I had a girl come into our school earlier this year with severe anxiety and depression,” commented one teacher. “She was deathly afraid of our leopard gecko. She barely came to school once a week. She now is to the point where she hasn’t missed a day in months, and she loves holding Leo (our gecko). She loves being in charge of feeding/watering him! Thank you so much, Pets in the Classroom!”
Another special education teacher remarked, “Your grant has contributed so much to our classroom environment. The students have responded to the sound of the water in the fish tank, and it seems to calm them and ease anxiety behaviors.”
Yet another wrote, “I want to share that the fish that we received have been an important part of my classroom routine in the morning with a particular student with autism. He starts his day checking his fish and feeding them. He helps test water pH and also cleaning the tank. His interaction with those fish is so amazing to watch.”
Becoming a Resource in Your Community
Teachers who have received Pets in the Classroom grants are the program’s strongest advocates. Eighty-seven percent have recommended the program to other teachers at their school, and 50 percent have recommended the program to other teachers they know.
Not only is the program very popular, 92 percent of teachers responded that they would be more likely to patronize a company that contributed support to the Pets in the Classroom program. Independent pet stores can take advantage of the goodwill already established by the program and become a valued resource to teachers in your community by taking a few simple steps:
• Download the Pets in the Classroom flyer at petsintheclassroom.org to share in your store and with your local schools.
• Request artwork by contacting Lisa Robbins at firstname.lastname@example.org for the full-color poster that you can customize with your logo and hang in your store.
• Be a resource to teachers in choosing the best pet for their classrooms and selecting appropriate products to care for the animal.
• Offer discounts to teachers to help their rebate or sustaining grants go farther (rebate grants cover up to $ for aquarium fish or reptiles and up to $ for small animals and birds).
Teachers face many challenges, from limited resources to increasing class sizes. They are very appreciative of help from programs like Pets in the Classroom and the stores that support it. As one teacher remarked, “Without this program, we wouldn’t have been able to afford the initial cost of setting up for our pet’s needs. The people at our local pet store have been incredibly helpful and caring.”
You, too, can be a hero to the teachers in your community by supporting Pets in the Classroom. PB
Steve King is executive director of the Pet Care Trust and president of the Pet Industry Distributors Association.