Kirby the guinea pig: proving class pets belong in high school, too

When a student surprised Deborah Barthold with a guinea pig four years ago, the science teacher never expected what would come out of it.

Barthold said the student was about to head off to college — and would be unable to continue caring for the animal. And so she asked Barthold if she could assume ownership of Gene, a name composed by a Genetics and Microbiology class. As the class pet, Gene brought a special atmosphere to the room, helping quieter students feel accepted, students say.

Then earlier this year, Gene passed away. The cause of death? Unknown.

As the days went on, the classroom shifted, and students wanted to fill the empty cage that stood in Room 421. Barthold’s Microbiology honors class decided to get another class pet, placing a plastic bag in the front of the classroom asking for donations. In two weeks they raised enough money, and after winter break, junior Jiselle Dos Santos Scott brought in a new pet. He was named Kirby, aptly so for the Kirby Bauer Susceptibility Test.

“He’s got a lot of energy,” says junior Michael Moyzan, who has Barthold for homeroom. “During the Pledge [of Allegiance], he runs laps around his cage.”

Barthold believes Kirby has brought her Microbiology class closer together since he is essentially a part of it. Sometimes, students place him on their desks or play with him whenever there’s free time. They all worked  hard to obtain him and understand the responsibility to maintain him, especially Scott and fellow junior Kathryn DeJohn.

They take him home on the weekend, and during breaks they feed him, fill his water, and change his cage. While Barthold enjoys having the guinea pig in her room, she doesn’t want all the responsibility to be on her, so having both DeJohn and Scott helps.

“The fact that they take it home on the weekend and things like that and they’ve shared that duty,” Barthold said, “Those two girls have a real strong connection with the guinea pig.”

While having a class pet remains a big responsibility, DeJohn loves doing it since she feels it helps engage students in class and makes them more excited to learn.

“It’s kind of a way to break the conventional school mold where students normally sit down and the teacher lectures,” DeJohn said.

Scott agrees, believing that Kirby has helped her stay awake in class and helps students interact more in class. She had fourteen hamsters growing up and understands the responsibility they entail but enjoys taking care of them. Scott bought Kirby with the money they raised and remembers that night as the most memorable moment with him.

“Setting him on my bed before I brought him to school, he was so scared, but he warmed up to me,” Scott said. “I also taught him how to give fake kisses.”

Scott agrees, believing that Kirby has helped her stay awake in class and helps students interact more in class. She had fourteen hamsters growing up and understands the responsibility they entail but enjoys doing it. Scott bought Kirby with the money they raised and remembers that night as the most memorable moment with him.

“Setting him on my bed before I brought him to school, he was so scared but he warmed up to me,” Scott said. “I also taught him how to give fake kisses.”

Photo courtesy of Jiselle Dos Santos Scott.

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