Dragons, hamsters and rats, oh my!
John Fedak, a science teacher at the Warren County School District's Learning Enrichment Center, has a lot of life to his classroom both human and animal and is looking to offset some of the costs of those pets through the Pets in the Classroom grant program.
"As the name implies, the grant provides grants for small animals, fish or reptiles and/or living environments for them," according to an executive summary presented to the school board's Curriculum, Instruction and Technology Committee. "Grants are provided to help teach children how to bond with and care for pets responsibly."
"There are a lot of different things you can learn from having classroom animals, from responsibility to learning phylogeny," Fedak said.
Phylogeny is the "the history of the evolution of a species or group, especially in reference to lines of descent and relationships among broad groups of organisms," according to Encyclopedia Britannica.
The list of qualified animals includes hamsters, guinea pigs, fish, bearded dragons, geckos, turtles, snakes or fancy rats.
"It would qualify him for small animals, fish or reptiles. Those are the options that students have," Amanda Hetrick, the district's director of curriculum, instruction and learning, said. "It's a fairly small grant."
Fedak said that he is looking for ways to cover the upkeep and food for the pets he does have at less cost to himself and the district.
The executive summary explained, "Grants may take the form of a rebate that reimburses teachers for the purchase, or a direct award redeemable at one of six pet stores that participate in the grant."
The committee had a few logistical questions about the request.
Committee Chairman Dr. Paul Yourchisin raised the concern of students potentially being allergic to animals in the classroom. "That's a point well taken," Hetrick said.
"PDE (Pennsylvania Department of Education) has a lot of restrictions about what we can and can't do," Superintendent Brandon Hufnagel said.
Board member Mary Anne Paris asked who would care for the animal over the summer and Hetrick assured the board that Fedak could handle those responsibilities.
Yourchisin said the request would be moved to the full board for action, but the "administration will make sure we are within the PDE guidelines for pets in schools."
"Kids benefit from exposure to pets in the classroom in ways that help to shape their lives for years to come," the Pets in the Classroom website states. "Our goal is to establish healthy child-pet relationships at an early age by supporting responsible pet care in elementary and middle school classrooms across the country. We know many school teachers have very limited resources for the support of classroom animals. That's why the Pet Care Trust is sponsoring this program to help teachers support pets in the classroom through direct, no-hassle educational grants."