Classroom pets get extra care during snow days at Whitney Young - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Classroom pets get extra care during snow days at Whitney Young Elementary School

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Princess (the guinea pig) is one of several animals in the Discovery Lab at Whitney Young Elementary School (Photo by Toni Konz) Princess (the guinea pig) is one of several animals in the Discovery Lab at Whitney Young Elementary School (Photo by Toni Konz)
Snowy and Bailey are the school's rabbits. Snowy and Bailey are the school's rabbits.
Judy Pollom, a teacher at Whitney Young Elementary School, talks to WDRB about taking care of the school's animals during snow days. Judy Pollom, a teacher at Whitney Young Elementary School, talks to WDRB about taking care of the school's animals during snow days.
Plant operator Tom Plappert gets ready to feed one of the frogs at Whitney Young Elementary School (Photo by Toni Konz) Plant operator Tom Plappert gets ready to feed one of the frogs at Whitney Young Elementary School (Photo by Toni Konz)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Don't worry, students of Whitney Young Elementary School – your classroom pets are doing just fine after all of these snow days.

Oreo and Princess (the guinea pigs), Bailey and Snowy (the rabbits), Sydney (the blue-tongued skink), Sweet Pea (the turtle), Greta (the gecko) Sebastian (the hermit crab) and all of the other animals in the Discovery Lab have been under the careful eye of plant operator Tom Plappert, custodian Clifford Hibbs and teacher Judy Pollom.

“Here you go, you look forward to this part, don't you?” Pollom says as she feeds the two rabbits some lettuce and carrots on Thursday morning at the school, located on 35h and Muhammad Ali in Louisville's West End. “You gotta have fresh veggies!”

Dozens of reptiles, mammals, amphibians and fish live in habitats inside the school's Discovery Lab – a second-floor classroom that has been transformed into a room that brings a lot of smiles – and a ton of learning.

"We use this center to help children learn and observe and investigate about the life sciences,” said Pollom, who helps run the lab with fellow teacher Judy Carr. “Our students absolutely love the lab and they learn so much while they are here.”

Principal Mary Minyard says the Discovery Lab allows her teachers to connect the school's International Baccalaureate curriculum to their students.

Whitney Young is the only elementary school in Jefferson County Public Schools to have the IB program, which concentrates on six themes of global significance.

“It's inquiry-based learning at its best,” Minyard said. “Our students may study the life cycle, but then they also are learning how to take action. We want them to take what they have learned and do something with it.”

But with school canceled all week because of cold, snowy weather – it was a group of adults who sprang into action.

"It does take a lot of responsibility to keep up with all these animals,” Pollom said.

Plappert said that while feeding rabbits, guinea pigs and other animals is not part of his job description, he is “more than happy” to help take care of them.

“I have no problem coming up here and feeding the rabbits and the guinea pigs and just checking on everything making sure everybody is in their cages and not out,” he said with a laugh.

Pollom, who has worked as a speech and language pathologist at Whitney Young for the past 13 years, said she has always used animals with speech therapy.

When a classroom became available about four years ago, Minyard asked Pollom to help turn it into a Discovery Lab.

Since then, the school has created a “Zoo Crew,” where a group of 15 students have been selected to come to school early and take care of the animals while learning responsibility and work ethic.

The kids not only get to read about animals and the life cycle, they get to see it in real life.

Two weeks ago, the school's librarian was reading to kindergartners about symmetry and patterns and she asked Bollom how she could use the lab to teach the students about symmetry.

“We brought them into the lab and we showed them the symmetry in turtles,” Bollom said.

In about a month, students will be able to observe baby chicks hatching.

Minyard said the Discovery Lab has been a great addition to her school and she's grateful to those who help take care of the animals.

“We have a wonderful staff here and everyone works together to provide the best experiences for our students,” she said. “That's what it's all about.”

Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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