Can guinea pigs make a difference to student engagement and achievement? Well, we haven’t conducted the research yet, but if teacher observation is a strong source of information, the answer is yes.
Michelle Reesman, Old Town Elementary School Librarian, connected with a family because they desperately wanted to donate a guinea pig to the school. With hesitation, Michelle approached the administration about the idea and wondered if the students would enjoy having a school pet to care for. Up until now, the library has a 34-year-old turtle housed in the library space and the students have always enjoyed the turtle over the years. But, let’s face it, turtles are tough to snuggle with.
Adopting a guinea pig was a whole new experience for librarian Michelle Reesman, but her instincts were telling her this could be a good thing for the students and school. The guinea pig was delivered by the family before the April vacation and immediately the school was a buzz with excitement. Mrs. Reesman, the outstanding teacher that she is, found a way to involve all the students with the naming of this sweet guinea pig and hosted an assembly to vote by noise a few days before the April vacation started. The students voted and “Dumbledorable” was named, and he now sits proudly in our school library.
As adults, we tend to shy away from such an undertaking as sheltering or adopting a pet for our schools or classrooms. But, the reaction of our students and staff has been amazing. Mrs. Reesman noted a few remarkable moments since Dumbledorable has arrived at the school. First, a student that is new to the school this year and has only uttered a few words to the librarian, immediately struck up a conversation with Mrs. Reesman about caring for gerbils at her home. Mrs. Reesman was awestruck by the interaction since the child has never even said hello to her during library classes. Other students, struggling with self-regulation have dropped in at the library to watch, observe, and visit with Dumbledorable as part of their daily routine. These students are so amazed by our little friend and want nothing more than to just sit quietly with him. Students with anxiety cuddle him for a few minutes in the morning to start their day with a calm feeling.
When you think one more thing will send us over the edge, think about the power of that one thing and its impact on our students. Connecting with nature and furry friends may be the key to a student’s success—It can be as simple as saying yes to a guinea pig for the library. One lesson we have learned; “Don’t let adult hang-ups get in the way of making good experiences for your students.”
This story was submitted by Old Town Elementary School Principal Jeanna Tuell as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. To submit a story or an idea, email Rachel at email@example.com.