When her first-graders don't understand the difference between a reptile and an amphibian, Dee Trevor just turns and points to Oasis, the class gecko, one of more than a dozen animals in her classroom.
With nearly as many animals in class as pupils, the Lake Forest Hills Elementary teacher uses the creatures to help teach the curriculum, demonstrating concepts such as animal groups.
"You can teach that in the book and you can say it all day long, but you give them a test and they still get it wrong," she said.
But, with the animals at her side, she can relate science lessons to what they can see and touch.
Not only does Mrs. Trevor bring the animals into her lessons, she also brings them into the homes of her pupils, letting the pupils care for animals on weekends and holidays.
Although an animal occasionally goes missing in action temporarily, pupils always return with journals of their experiences, she said.
Caitlin Safford dictated her journal entry from the point of view of Phoebe the ferret, and has read it aloud in class. She described how the animal was lost for hours during a game of hide and seek, sending family members scurrying to find her.
The animal "got lost for like five hours," she said.
Phoebe, however, had merely sneaked into a cozy spot, curled up and taken a nap, Caitlin said.
A similar incident happened at the school, Mrs. Trevor said, and the ferret was discovered in the lost and found box.
Another pupil, Joshua Thomas, has taken home one of the class's most popular pets, Ivan, a small, brown hamster.
"We had fun. We watched TV," he said, adding that the duo even watched Animal Planet. "I watched him crawl around. It was like a small lion."
Among the lessons Mrs. Trevor hopes the pupils learn is not to be afraid of animals or the unknown.
"I don't want anyone to grow up afraid of something they've never been exposed to," she said. "To me, that's the bottom line."
Mrs. Trevor, who has eight pets at home, said she has used animals to teach lessons for more than 13 years, but this year she received a Westinghouse Savannah River Site grant, which is helping with the cost of maintaining the animals.
She began the animal collection with a hamster, but through the years that grew into an assortment representing almost every class of animal, she said.
Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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