Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Cloudy 68° Cloudy
News >  Spokane

Pet project: Montessori students learn about care, feeding of animals

Tatum Getchell, 12, offers her shoulder to Olivia, her class’s pet rat, on Tuesday at Spokane Public Montessori School in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Tatum Getchell, 12, offers her shoulder to Olivia, her class’s pet rat, on Tuesday at Spokane Public Montessori School in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Olivia is a demanding young female often caught preening during class. Sugar, at 7 years old, already has been in third grade. Cleopatra is lanky, extremely flexible and could reach six feet.

The three – a rat, a guinea pig and a ball python – all live at Spokane Public Montessori School, where class pets are used to teach students about animals, responsibility and caring.

“People think you just need to feed and clean your pets, but they really need attention, too,” said 12-year-old Tatum Getchell.

The Montessori school’s use of classroom pets is becoming an exception as keeping animals in public schools is becoming less common.

School districts find there are too many hassles: Making sure pets have a place to stay during school breaks, aggressiveness of animals, cleanliness, allergies and illnesses.

It takes a real commitment on part of the educators, said Kevin Morrison, spokesman for Spokane Public Schools.

“Young children are especially at risk for illness because their immune systems still are developing and because they are more likely than others to put their fingers or other items into their mouths,” a behavior that can spread germs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Montessori Principal Shannon Lawson and the school’s teachers know the risks and responsibilities.

Sugar the guinea pig lives in Paula Gibson-Smith’s first- through third-grade class. The children take turns feeding, cuddling and cleaning up after the animals.

Vinjohn Dragseth can explain how to change the water and make sure the pet has enough food pellets and shredded lettuce in her food tray.

Then he slips on a plastic glove: “Now it’s time to do something not so nice,” said Dragseth, who used his gloved hand to pull out soiled shavings from Sugar’s cage.

Cleopatra the snake gently wrapped herself around 8-year-old Zoe Lake’s arm, a disconcerting scene in any other setting. “I’ve never had any bad experiences with snakes,” she said. “She knows me, and I know her.”

Each classroom tries to have animals that represent different animal classes – including reptiles, mammals, birds and amphibians. In addition to the rat, snake and guinea pig, there are several other animals, including a baby eel, a couple of bearded dragons, frogs, a variety of birds and several fish.

Olivia the rat is one of the most popular. Sixth-grader Getchell brought her to the school last year when one of her friends decided she didn’t want the pet anymore.

“Rats are not always the gross animals people think they are – it just depends on the care you give them,” she said.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.