As teachers pivoted to online learning last school year, some faced a unique challenge: What would happen to their class pets?
Central Ohio teachers scrambled to find surrogate homes for their turtles, bearded dragons and other class pets last spring and, in some cases, again over the summer.
"Those are some of the pandemic things people don't think about," said Katie Guehl, a fourth-grade teacher.
She has had her class pet, Daphne Phyllis, a red-eared slider turtle, for almost 20 years.
"She is a little staple," Guehl said of the 25- to 30-year-old turtle named by her students after studying mythology. "The kids know her and are excited to befriend her. They may not remember my math lesson at the end of the day, but they'll remember feeding the turtle."
When COVID-19 shuttered schools in March 2020, Daphne Phyllis went between the houses of two students during the spring and summer months.
Guehl, who is still teaching students remotely because of parent requests, brought Daphne Phyllis back to the classroom this past fall and starts every school day by wheeling her laptop on a cart right up to the tank.
"Class pets are definitely more fun when you have the children in the room," said Guehl, who has been teaching for 24 years.
When schools closed last spring, Rich Ladowitz, a high school biology and environmental science teacher, remembers thinking, "What are we going to do with Mya?"
Ladowitz brought the five-year-old Russian tortoise into his classroom four years ago. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, senior Casey Lichtner volunteered to take Mya home with her.
"I thought she was really cool and interesting," said 18-year-old Lichtner. "I like pets a lot. So I was like, 'Why not have a tortoise for a couple of weeks?' "
But what she thought would be a couple of weeks turned into a couple of months as the pandemic wore on.
"I was still happy to have her," Lichtner said. "She's pretty low-maintenance. You just feed her a couple of times a day and let her out."
Ladowitz moved Mya back into the classroom at the start of this school year. Even though the year started virtually, Ladowitz worked in the classroom and often held Mya up to the camera during lessons.
Pets "rely on you and there's a bond there," he said. "Even with a tortoise, there is a bond."
Tanks a lot
Kyle Campbell, a zoology teacher, has 23 tanks in his classroom full of different species, including an alligator, turtles, snakes, toads, a bearded dragon, crabs, geckos, catfish and a tarantula.
He couldn't take all the animals home with him when schools closed last spring, so he went into the classroom three times a week to take care of them. Fortunately, Campbell said, he lives near the high school.
It took him a little over three hours to feed all the animals the first time, but he eventually was able to shave an hour off the process. He also had to clean the tanks and check all the water levels.
"Overall, the pandemic wasn't good for anybody, but it was hard on the animals, too," he said.
The perfect pet?
Tara Rahm, a fourth-grade science teacher, doesn't consider herself an animal person. Still, she decided to get a class pet when she started teaching life science 10 years ago. Instead of buying a turtle or a lizard, she decided on Madagascar hissing cockroaches.
"They don't bite, they don't fly, they don't run away fast, they don't stink," she said. "They're the perfect classroom pet."
Her husband, however, isn't a fan. So when schools closed last spring, she had to go into the classroom to feed them.
When she realized the school year would finish virtually, she took the cockroaches to the home of her twin sister, who is also a teacher and also has cockroaches as class pets.
Rahm brought the cockroaches back to the classroom in the fall and, to her surprise, one of the cockroaches gave birth to 14 babies in September.
"During the quarantine, we were teaching from home. ... It was lonely for the kids. It was lonely for me," she said. "And when the babies came around, it was something we just all looked forward to."