Vienna kindergartners say goodbye to class pets

By Colin Willard, Advocate Staff Writer
Posted 5/15/24

VIENNA — Shortly before the school year ended, Lisa Swindell’s Vienna Elementary School kindergarten class said goodbye to two furry friends they welcomed into the classroom during the …

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Vienna kindergartners say goodbye to class pets


VIENNA — Shortly before the school year ended, Lisa Swindell’s Vienna Elementary School kindergarten class said goodbye to two furry friends they welcomed into the classroom during the second semester.

A pair of guinea pigs, Patch and Nibbles joined Swindell and her students earlier this year. The pets came into the class through Pets in the Classroom, a grant program run by The Pet Care Trust. The organization is a private, non-profit foundation with goals of promoting public knowledge about companion animals through research and education and promoting professionalism among people with animal companions.

Through Pets in the Classroom, teachers may answer a questionnaire to see if their classrooms qualify for class pet grants. To qualify, teachers must work with students between kindergarten and ninth grade in a public or private school and not be a former store rebate grant recipient through the program. The grants only cover small mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and arachnids. Animals purchased through the grant are for bonding and support and not for experiments.

Pets in the Classroom connects teachers with applicable coupons to pet retailers such as Petco and PetSmart. The grant program covered the full cost of a pet habitat, half the cost of supplies and half the cost of a guinea pig for Swindell’s class. The program also comes with a curriculum to help students learn about the new pet.

Before purchasing the class pets, Swindell received permission from administrators and parents to ensure that the pets would not conflict with any allergies.

“I want to give a big thank you to (Superintendent Teresa) Messersmith and (Vienna Elementary School Principal Shanda) Snodgrass for allowing us to have this great opportunity and experience in our school and to the Pets in the Classroom teacher grant for providing teachers and students with such a fun and educational program,” she said.

Once Swindell confirmed that the class could get a guinea pig, she and her students began preparing. As they did, their preparation expanded to include two pets.

“The students and I watched many videos on how to take care of him, what to feed him and what guinea pigs like and do not like,” Swindell said. “We spent two weeks preparing for our new friend. One thing that we learned is guinea pigs are very social animals, and they do better in groups. Well, we just had to get two.”

The guinea pigs joined the class at the end of January, and the students gave them a warm welcome.

“Patch and Nibbles are now a big part of our classroom,” Swindell said earlier in the semester. “They have many visitors in the morning before school starts.”

The students completed assigned tasks to help care for the guinea pigs, such as feeding them carrots or reading to them one-on-one. Swindell said all the students did a great job.

“Once our new friends are more comfortable with us, we plan to start taking them out of their cage and let them sit on laps to be read to,” she said.

During a visit to the classroom, several students told The Advocate that their favorite thing about having Patch and Nibbles in the class was getting a chance to read to them. Swindell said the five minutes of reading time with the guinea pigs allows for a moment of quiet and calm for students who are especially energetic and could use time to refocus.

“This has been an amazing learning experience for all of us,” Swindell said. “My students have become very respectful and caring with our new friends and each other. They are also very protective of Patch and Nibbles when other students come to visit.”

Parents of kindergartners have surely heard a lot about Patch and Nibbles since their arrival, but they can expect to read more about the guinea pigs’ experiences in the classroom now that the students have completed projects at the end of the year describing what adventures the pair may have over the summer.

“As my students are learning to read and write, this has become a great educational (and) motivational tool for them,” Swindell said.

Patch and Nibbles left for the summer at the beginning of May. Swindell said many students missed the guinea pigs during the last couple of weeks of school. Although those students will move on to first grade in August, a new batch of kindergarten students have already met the class pets at the kindergarten round-up earlier this spring.

“We are looking forward to another great year with them,” Swindell said.