By RHONDA SIMONSON, Hamline Elementary teacher
Hamline Elementary welcomed Bonnie Laabs to the school this fall. Laabs, in her fourth year of teaching science, did not arrive at Hamline Elementary empty handed. Her reputation preceded her, with a strong interest in Lego robotics and an impressive ability to make the state science test standards understandable and fun–so mandated science test scores potentially could rise for their students.
PHOTO right: Bonnie Laabs
But, much to the delight of everyone., Laabs brought a whole cast of characters: Spike, Leo, Andre, Mr. Tottle and more. To someone walking through room 1214 before or after school, you might say, “Oh, isn’t that cute; the science teacher has a turtle, lizard, fish, bearded dragon, butterflies waiting to lay eggs, a hermit crab, tadpoles, mealworms….and is that a real bunny?”
If you happen to come to observe Hamline Elementary during school hours, you get a chance to see the common core state standards come to life and have relevance for children. The Kindergarten living/nonliving unit is engaging when animals are involved.
Second graders totally get habitats and life cycles, core curriculum units for them; while third graders can not miss the adaptations unit as it applies to Spike, the bearded dragon. Fifth graders understand the relevance of ecosystems and biomes as they see the reality of food chains play out before them. Laabs exudes what every inspired science teacher should have–she knows her science and she knows what interests kids. That would be enough to be a huge win for Hamline Elementary students.
But really, there is a whole lot more that the kids do not even know.
Sitting down and talking to Laabs after school, she explained her doctoral work about the use of animals in mitigating the effects of trauma on executive function skills. She reaps the benefits of numerous current studies that show being around animals changes a brain’s chemistry and animals can encourage impulse control and calm. Animal contact can also be very motivational and build empathy skills.
Laabs feels fortunate that the Hamline Elementary principal is very open to having the ‘zoo.’ Laabs is meticulous about cleaning; runs an air cleaner and yes, admits that trust becomes a big part of her curriculum. She has to create an environment where the animals can trust the rotation of classes that comes through her space. She has to be willing to deal with allergy questions, the clawing that might happen, or a nibble that turns into more of a bite.
Parents get what Laabs is doing for the children at Hamline Elementary. Children start with the fish, moved to the crab, graduate to a bunny. (Who knew bunnies can live to be 20!) And, yes, talk a parent into a 100-pound dog because it was going to live outside. (Even a mom could not stick such a cute puppy outside alone once he comes in your house!) Animals do make the world a better place and each of us deserves that.
So here is my question to Ms. Laabs? Can we get a therapy dog? There’s some Mayo research on the value of dogs in healing. We won’t even pretend that we should keep it outside.
How cool would that be to have a school dog! If Laabs brings Hamline Elementary a therapy dog, they will send the Monitor pictures and its name.