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Principal nixes pets in classroom

Ohanian Comment: In my
20+ years of teaching, if you exclude the
cockroaches, I never housed pets in my
classrooms. I always regarded this as a
personal shortcoming on my part because kids do
enjoy the animal encounters.

The very best elementary teacher I knew had all
sorts of pets, and when the baby chicks that
the 4th graders hatched grew, she found them
homes, as it turn out, including her own. I
remember going to her house one day and seeing
a bantam hen in the kitchen. Not in the oven
but wandering around. It followed my friend
like a loyal dog.

I don't know what those kids "learned" from all
the pets in the animal plentiful classrooms in
the various schools where I taught, and I don't
care. I never cared. Let teachers teach. Is
that so difficult to grasp?

We teach who we are, and if who we are includes
animals in close proximity, so much the better.
The idea of telling a teacher of 25-year
veteran teacher to justify the presence of
animals in her classroom is offensive in the

By Nancy Mitchell

Science teacher Pattyanne Corsentino plays with
Fifi the tarantula after school while students
at Montbello High School in Denver watch. New
principal Patty Geffre has told teachers with
pets to remove them. "We are here to educate
children, not to house animals," she said.

Say farewell to the classroom pet - the
hamster, gerbil or snake occupying an aquarium
behind finger-smudged glass. Unless the little
rodent or reptile relates to an academic
lesson, its school days may be numbered.

Students at Montbello High School in far
northeast Denver are learning that lesson this
week after a new principal told teachers with
pets to remove them.

"We are here to educate children, not to house
animals," Principal Patty Geffre said Thursday.

"If you are doing an educational experience
that's going to enhance student learning, they
can be there . . . but we're not their home."

The edict has prompted an outcry from students
of science teacher Pattyanne Corsentino, whose
classroom is home to Roxanne the corn snake,
Fifi the tarantula and Joey the bearded dragon.

Kassandra Coronado and Louisa Carrasco, both
ninth-graders in Corsentino's Earth science
class, have collected more than 200 signatures
on a petition titled "Keep Animals in Class."

"We should have them because students should
learn about them," said Jose Castillo, a
freshman who signed the petition. "I never had
a pet before but from the first time I held
Joey, I started getting feelings for animals."

Denver Public Schools does not have a
districtwide policy on animals in schools.
Instead, principals set guidelines for their

Corsentino, who is in her 26th year of teaching
science, said she has had animals in her
classrooms at eight different schools
throughout her career. This is the first time
she's been asked to remove them.

"The animals are a way for kids to connect,"
Corsentino said. "They become caretakers, they
learn about unusual species. I use the animals
as a reward - they all want to hold them, they
all want to take care of them."

But a lizard, a spider and a snake don't tie
directly to her Earth science classes, she
said, though she might argue a connection to
her biology class.

Other metro area districts have set policies
for animals in classrooms, typically allowing
them so long as the teacher states a general
educational purpose.

"Using animals in the classroom provides a
unique and valuable tool to further a child's
understanding and appreciation of nature,"
begins the Jefferson County schools' policy.

And in the Cherry Creek School District,
spokeswoman Tustin Amole said animals are fine
as long as "they're part of an educational
program of study . . . they're useful tools in

One middle school teacher even keeps two dozen
snakes in her room for a course titled

DPS' Geffre, who grew up on a farm, said she
has nothing against animals.

She is concerned about students with allergies,
the liability of an injury caused by an animal
at school and the comfort level of a teacher
forced to share a room with another teacher's

"If you have a reason for them that enhances
our curriculum, I'll talk about it," she said,
noting she's already approved an embryology
project where students will watch fish grow in
a tank.

Other DPS principals have similar views.
Bromwell Elementary Principal Jonathan Wolfer
said teachers have taken the lead in limiting
animals at school.

"If we have them, they'll be for a short period
of time for a science lesson," he said. "So we
don't really do the gerbils or hamsters here."

— Nancy Mitchell
Rocky Mountain News





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