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Pets in the Classroom

Principal Ben Januschka and student Jayvon Maternowski share hold of a corn snake in the first grade classroom of Dawn Slinger, background left.

Nearly all children have played a video game but few have a pet to call their own. Most teachers agree that an animal can enrich a child's upbringing and many are using their own money to provide one for their classroom. Now a few groups are stepping up to assist these teachers with the financial burden of having a pet in the classroom.

Pets in the Classroom is a Maryland-based project funded by the Pet Care Trust. The organization began offering grants to US and Canadian teachers in grades 1 through 8 two years ago. Teachers are able to use the money to purchase starter pets, cages, food, and other supplies and the organization awarded their 10,000th grant this summer.

The $150 grants help offset the cost of the animal and its care, which helps teachers who had been using their own money, explained foundation executive director, Steve King. Teachers are also able to apply for a second year and could be awarded an additional $50 for more equipment, food, and supplies.

Pet Care Trust introduced its pets to classrooms in conjunction with the Florida Aquarium in Tampa five years ago. Classroom teachers were awarded a 150-gallon aquarium, supplies, and fish, explained King. Nearly 200 classrooms in the Tampa area received aquariums. A similar program was launched in Chicago.

A tortoise walks onto the coloring project of a tortoise by Gavin Thoen in the first grade classroom of Dawn Slinger in Farmington, Minn.

Dawn Slinger, a teacher in Farmington, MN, has used her own money in the past and believes that the cost is worth the experience for her students. She builds her classroom lessons around two miniature Russian tortoises, a fire-belly newt, tree frogs, three types of gecko, hermit crabs, two small ball pythons, and a corn snake. She also has a 45-gallon tank of fish. Slinger says that she chooses the animals because they fascinate the children, they have the right temperaments, and that they don't bother students with allergies or asthma. She says that her students observe and draw the animals, and research and write about them. Once the school year comes to an end, each student's work is made into a book.