OUTLOOK: Beechwood Elementary’s Wildlife Menagerie
Published 4:00 am Sunday, January 23, 2022
Beechwood Elementary has created a menagerie of sorts.
From bunnies to a bearded dragon, several little animals make up the school’s wildlife center, which is serving not only as entertainment for the students but also educational opportunities for teachers.
“Our third-grade students were learning how to use measuring tools like a tape measure and ruler,” Beechwood principal Melissa Rouse said. “So, their teachers brought their classes down to the wildlife center and had the students measure their (the animals) enclosures using their different measuring tools as part of their math lessons.”
Rouse said one of the school’s tutors used the wildlife center as a means of teaching students how to do research.
“The kids were really interested in the hedgehog,” Rouse said.
Therefore, the tutor had them do research to find out what hedgehogs like to eat. And to hone in on their writing skills, Rouse said, the tutor had the students make a list of a hedgehog’s favorite treats, so when she went shopping for their food, she would know exactly what to get.
The idea of setting up a wildlife center had been a dream of Rouse’s for quite some time.
“I personally have quite a few animals at my house, and have always had a love of animals,” she said.
Over the summer, the notion of having animals at the school was reinforced when she took her own children to the zoo in Omaha, Neb.
“It got me to thinking how a lot of children don’t have those experiences, or the most experience they do have is with a dog or a cat,” Rouse said. “So, I talked to (Beechwood Elementary principal) Mr. Adams to see if I could start this little wildlife center to give the children the experience of getting to see these animals and learn about them.”
Rouse said having a wildlife center could also add to the science curriculum and give the students the opportunity to be leaders in their school by helping to take care of the animals. In fact, just recently the school has put into place wildlife center zookeepers, which is comprised of third- through sixth-grade students who sign up to take care of the animals every morning.
This has been a help for Rouse as well. Initially, the wildlife center only had two rabbits and the bearded dragon, but now there are also three rats, a hedgehog, a parakeet, a crested gecko and a red-eared slider turtle.
The addition of creatures has been due in part, Rouse said, to everyone at the school.
“Our staff absolutely loves them (the creatures), from the custodians to the cafeteria ladies to the teachers and assistants. And if they mention animals they are interested in, if it’s something that’s not too difficult to take care of, we try to make that happen,” she said.
The wildlife center is at the lower end of the school where the younger student’s classrooms are located.
“So, the first and second graders come running in every morning and get to get to look at the animals before they go to class,” Rouse said. “And the pre-k and kindergarten and the upper elementary students come by on their way to activities.
“The animals are very socialized,” she said.
The wildlife center has also been beneficial to students with discipline and emotional problems. Rouse said sometimes just going down and seeing the animals can calm a child.
Special needs students are also benefiting.
“We have children that are close to non-verbal or who are non-verbal, and every day their special ed teacher brings them by and they get so excited to see them,” Rouse said. “It’s all been so heartwarming.”
Plans are to continue expanding the wildlife center and bring in visiting animals.
“My daughter has a ball python, so he is going to come visit for a few days,” Rouse said, adding that since the staff was not too excited about a snake at the school, he would not be a “permanent fixture.”
Bringing in the reptile, Rouse said, will give the students another opportunity for learning.
“This is to introduce the kids to as much as possible,” she said, which has included broadening their vocabulary.
“I have made posters and picture cards and placed them all around the lobby so in the morning the kids are reading all about the animals like which ones are nocturnal, which ones are herbivores and which ones are insectivores,” she said. “They have even learned about roaches because our bearded dragon eats Dubia roaches, which come from Africa.”
The wildlife center has opened the door to so many opportunities, Rouse said.
“We have been able to talk about some interesting tidbits that might not come up in classroom conversation,” she said.