March 14, 2017

by Steve King

The Pet Care Trust launched its signature program, Pets in the Classroom, in 2011 with little fanfare and a few social media posts on sites catering to teachers. Today, midway through the 2016-17 school year, we have awarded more than 91,000 grants to teachers in every state and Canadian province.

What has led to the explosive growth of this program? Kids’ natural curiosity about animals, teachers’ desire to enrich their curricula and the program’s hassle-free grant process have proven to be a winning combination. The program not only brings out students’ creativity, stimulates learning and improves classroom socialization, it also promotes a sense of responsibility, empathy and compassion for all living things.

The program provides grants to teachers who teach grades pre-K through eight to obtain a classroom pet and the products needed to house and care for the animal. Grants are provided through coupons redeemed at all major pet retail chains. Or, teachers may opt for a rebate grant that reimburses them for up to $125 spent at any independent pet store. Every teacher who receives a grant is eligible to receive a $50 sustaining grant each successive school year to buy supplies for their classroom pet.

The program’s true impact can be observed best in individual classrooms, like Haley Cooper’s 3rd and 4th grade classroom in Thornfield, Missouri.

“I can’t thank you enough for allowing our classroom to be part of Pets in the Classroom,” Cooper said in a letter that she wrote to the Pet Care Trust. “Having a pet keeps my students excited about school and science. My students love helping with the chameleon’s water dish and watching her eat. Students come to school and tell me facts about the chameleon that they researched on their own.”

Or as Jaylen, one of Cooper’s students puts it, “I think that all of you are amazingly nice for giving us money to buy the chameleon, a cage, and food! We all voted and decided to name the chameleon Spike and we decided that before we realized that Spike is a girl!”

Classroom pets can even impact kids outside the classroom. Teacher Denise Morin from Brayton Elementary School in North Adams, Massachusetts, obtained a Pets in the Classroom grant for an aquarium for summer science camp.

“I am one of 10 camp leaders serving over 300 students in the school district’s K-6 day camp,” Morin said in her letter. “This year, the theme of the science camp has been ‘Ocean Commotion.’ We are about four hours from the ocean, and the majority of our children live in poverty. The parents can barely afford food for their families, much less a trip to the ocean. In camp, many students need ‘relax’ time because of home-life situations. In many cases, the students come to summer science camp because it is a safe, loving environment, plus they get at least two meals a day. The tank in the room helps the students relax and be comforted. Many students, when camp is getting overwhelming, go to the tank area to relax, calm down, refocus and then rejoin the group in better spirits.”

Pets in the Classroom has touched the lives of more than 3.6 million children. A study by the American Humane Association and funded by the Pet Care Trust and the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute Foundation is expected to show that classroom pets not only increase students’ social skills and decrease problem behaviors like bullying, but can also improve academic achievement to a greater degree than children who do not have a pet in their classroom.

Demand for Pets in the Classroom grants is expected to skyrocket as these findings filter through the academic community. We don’t want a teacher to tell his or her students that their classroom pet request was denied due to lack of funds. Help us by making a donation to the Pet Care Trust at www.petsintheclassroom.org/donate.

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