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🐢 Teacher's Pet


Fifteen years ago, a Granite Hill Elementary teacher found a California desert tortoise wandering the streets of Corona. “She wasn’t able to locate the owner, so she brought him to me,” said Kathleen Brooks, who also teaches at the school.

Ms. Brooks already had experience with tortoises. She adopted the reptile, whom she named Wilbur, and saw an opportunity to make him a part-time class pet, incorporating him into her 2nd-grade science unit. "They are great with him,” she said of her students’ interactions with Wilbur. “They love learning about him.”

Wilbur the tortoiseMs. Brooks holding Wilbur in the garden

Wilbur’s arrival coincided with the creation of the school’s garden, and a mural dedicated to him overlooks the space. “We do a garden [plot] specifically for Wilbur,” shared Ms. Brooks. “We grow things like collard greens and mustard greens and dandelions.” 

When her students work in the soil, Wilbur is nearby, slowly exploring his wooden enclosure. Kids take breaks from planting and weeding to feed him and pet his shell. “He absolutely loves kids,” said Ms. Brooks. “He’s very friendly.”

Ms. Brooks believes Wilbur teaches her students about empathy and how to take care of another living creature. “I think Wilbur has kind of a calming effect, too,” she shared.

Class pets are not only beneficial to elementary kids. At Mira Loma Middle, a bearded dragon lizard named Draco helps Nancy Croxton teach about ecology and evolution. “She becomes part of the curriculum,” said Ms. Croxton.

Draco the bearded dragonStudent holding Draco

At thirteen, Draco has been a class pet for most of her life. Ms. Croxton introduced the lizard to her Patriot High science club when Draco was only four weeks old. Now at Mira Loma, Draco hangs out with students while they work on assignments. Middle schoolers take turns holding her and marveling over her sunset colors. 

“She’ll make some of the shyest students in the room come up and ask questions,” shared Ms. Croxton. The most popular question is, does she bite? “I always tell them any animal can bite if they’re provoked. Even [people],” said Ms. Croxton. “But she never has. She’s a wonderful, easygoing, pretty mellow lizard.”

Class pets are often the stars of the classroom. At Pedley Elementary, the favored class job of Tracy Grogan’s kindergarteners is “Critter Wrangler.” The classroom is western-themed, and Critter Wrangler is the title given to students who care for Becky, the hairless guinea pig. Critter Wranglers feed her, make sure her hay trough is full, check her water level, and give her treats like carrots and kale.
“The kids love to talk to her every day,” shared Ms. Grogan. “When the kids are nervous about reading or they just want a little more practice, they go back and read to her because she's a great listener.”

Becky the guinea pigCritter Wranglers with Becky
Students are eager to learn about her, too. In the cafeteria, they point to vegetables or fruits and ask if Becky can have them, which sends Ms. Grogan straight to Google for the answer. Becky is also an asset to social-emotional learning, especially at the beginning of the year when kindergarteners have a hard time being separated from parents and guardians. Becky provides comfort to students adjusting to a new environment.
“She is invaluable...[to] any kindergartener that’s struggling, having a hard time,” reported Ms. Grogan. “She’s a very popular member of our class.”