A Macaw Ate My Homework Exotic Animals and Education

macaws in the classroom
Do you remember what you learned in high school biology? Perhaps you read from a 300-page textbook or took countless multiple choice tests. Chances are you weren’t finishing homework while holding a bearded dragon, but students at a Texas high school do.

Shelley Meyers, science teacher at Rowlett High School, takes an exotic approach with her biology courses. She began teaching with exotic animals in her classroom 22 years ago.
 
“I grew up on a farm and was always rescuing something,” says Meyers. “I work with several rescues in the area that will get a parrot or exotic animal in. I’ll assess them to see if they would do well in a classroom environment and be okay with the kids.”
 
“We recently had a tornado that leveled the town surrounding our school,” Meyers continues. “People thought about rescuing the dogs and the cats, but no one thought about all the snakes, hamsters and birds that were out. I opened my classroom, called the principal and we ended up with 26 parrots in my room.”
 
For Meyers, it’s become much more than rescuing exotics in need of rehabilitation. She incorporates the resident classroom animals into her lesson plans for hands-on, active learning.
 
“I'm always standing with an animal in my hand or the kids are sitting at their desks with them,” explains Meyers. “We raise mice to look at offspring genetics and the students do predictions. We once hatched 92 eggs in our classroom and they had to figure out who the parents were from birds at my barn.”
 
Beyond the chalkboard 
While her classroom is the setting, Meyers explains what her students learn from the exotic animals go far beyond a textbook. Along with the joy of spending time with the animals, students gain knowledge of the consistent care an exotic pet requires.
 
“I have a care crew of students that help with the animals every single morning,” says Meyers. “Starting at 6:30 a.m. before school, they're cleaning cages and feeding. They have a particular animal they bond with.”
 
Meyers says the students on her morning crew learn about exotic animal management and nutrition.
 
“The Mazuri® pelleted food is the only one I use, since some of my animals are picky,” says Meyers. “I feed the Bearded Dragon Diet, Rabbit Diet with Timothy Hay and Aquatic Turtle Diet. The iguana enjoys insects fed with Better Bug® Gut Loading Diet.”
 
The lessons in responsibility don’t stop with her morning crew. Meyers’ classroom animals are cared for during the holidays by students who take them home.
 
“With the program I have, I don't bring the animals home to my house,” she says. “The kids check everything out in the summer and on breaks. They take the cage, the food, the animal; they are responsible for them. There’s usually a waiting line for kids who want to take home the big macaws and Amazon parrots.”
 
Life lessons 
For some students, the feathered, scaled and furry residents of the Rowlett High School biology classroom offer therapy and enrichment.
 
“Severely handicapped or autistic students will visit my classroom,” explains Meyers. “They’ll work with the animals for tactile enrichment with the rabbits, or for different textures like lizards or snakes.”
 
“Students traumatized by things at home come in and the animals become their therapy,” Meyers continues. “I've seen a lot of tears and kids fall apart because, although they might have trouble in their lives, the animals provide them with hope.”
 
The unique experience Meyers’ classroom provides has led students down career paths inspired by the animals.
 
“Graduates come back to ask about certain animals and many of them go on to medical or veterinary school,” Meyers says. “One of my former students was just accepted into Texas A&M University, and another into medical school. It’s amazing to see where my students’ passion for learning takes them.”
 
Do you or someone you know use exotic animals to inspire education or therapy? Mazuri would love to hear your story. Send a message on the Mazuri Facebook page for a chance to have your story featured.