Back to school: Does your child’s teacher need a class pet? How to get one for free

I am the daughter of an elementary school teacher. My mom had in her classroom guinea pigs, a rabbit, chickens, an iguana, hermit crabs, a crayfish, butterflies, opossum babies, and I’m sure more animals that I’ve somehow forgotten. This meant that we also had these animals in our home on the weekends, summer, spring and winter breaks. It was fabulous.

My kids have had the gerbils that wouldn’t stop mating, hissing cockroaches, chickens, goats, ducks, turtles, snakes, therapy dogs, fish and snail aquariums, and more at their schools. It’s made for a rich, hands-on environment for my children.

Yang Villalpando, a bearded dragon, came to our home after the Villalpando children learned about caring for reptiles with school pets. Nicole Villalpando/American-Statesman

Getting a class pet can be an expensive proposition for teachers (who we all know spend a lot of their own money on school supplies for your children). Pets in the Classroom is a nonprofit organization that helps teachers put pets in their classroom by giving out $75 grants to buy a small animal or $125 grants for a reptile, amphibian or aquarium as well as $50 sustaining grants to maintain the current pet. To qualify, a teacher just has to go to www.petsintheclassroom.org and fill out the application. They have to teach in a public or private school classroom in grades Pre-K through ninth. Home school or an in-home day care doesn’t qualify.

They suggest that you wait to find out about classroom allergies before applying for a new-animal grant, so you know what kind of animal to ask for. You can only apply once per year.

Ava Villlalpando holds her chinchilla Muy, who was also inspired by school. Nicole Villalpando

Warning to parents, though: We are now the proud owners of a chinchilla, a bearded dragon, an aquarium with some of the snails from fourth-grade, as well as the cats and dog. Why? Every encounter with a new animal in school made my children want one for home. I have managed to not give in to the frequent requests for a snake, though.

And if you are a parent whose child made you get that pet guinea pig only to have that guinea pig be ignored by said child, consider donating the guinea pig to your local school. Call up the office and ask them to ask teachers if they would like it for their classroom. Your guinea pig will get loved from 25 eager new owners in that classroom.


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