Life sciences teacher Kim Law gave instructions to 9-year-old Kendall Cass, who was about to take a snake out of a cage: “Not around your neck with the big one.”
Hoggard Math & Science Magnet School, an elementary school in the Clark County School District, has an out-of-the-ordinary offering: an animal lab.
Taking care of the animals at the central Las Vegas school teaches children responsibility, Law said. Also, “My focus this year has been a little more on sustainable living.”
Hoggard has approximately 155 animals, including parakeets, baby quail, sheep, potbellied pigs, goats, chickens, tortoises, geckos, chinchillas, rabbits and snakes.
Normally, Hoggard has between 130 and 135 animals on campus. But current numbers are up slightly, thanks to a recent influx of guinea pigs—four of which recently gave birth.
“We get a lot of animals given to us,” Law said.
The school gets permission from the school district’s risk management department to have each animal on campus. Animals must be nonaggressive since they’re around children.
Some animals live indoors in a large room at the school. The outdoor animals are in fenced areas at the center of campus.
Hoggard also has an urban garden and tanks with fish that are part of a system used to grow plants without soil.
Popular magnet school
The school, on North Tonopah Drive, was rebuilt a couple of years ago after the old building—which opened in 1952—was torn down.
The replacement school, in its second year of use, was designed with the animals in mind.
Hoggard Principal Stacey Scott-Cherry said the animal lab is a major draw for the school and a big source of pride.
It provides a rare opportunity for students living in the desert to see things like sheep being sheared, and to interact with uncommon indoor animals, she said.
Taking care of animals
Hoggard students take Law’s class once a week for a semester.
Fourth and fifth graders handle animal care. Schoolwide, it’s a group effort to collect chicken eggs during the day, which are cleaned and graded by students.
Hoggard also has a “zookeepers club.” It’s so popular that approximately 200 students—about half the student body—participates.
Law runs the club every weekday morning, with different grade levels coming in each morning. She also has parent volunteers.
Law is at Hoggard every day, even on weekends and school holidays, taking care of the animals. It’s the first year she has a full-time aide—an 18-year-old former student—to help her with the program.
Children can also take animals home over the weekends and during the summer.
The school district has dozens of magnet schools—including Hoggard—that have specialized programs. They’re free to attend.
Families apply for the magnet programs, which draw students from across the valley.
If there are more applicants than available seats, a lottery is conducted. The application deadline was in January for next school year.
This school year, 737 applications were submitted for Hoggard’s 121 seats—84 of which were in kindergarten.
Fundraising occurs to help cover program costs, but the school also sells its chicken eggs.
It costs about $1,000 per month for food for the animals, Law said. She pays for new cages and veterinarian bills herself as a donation to the school.
The school accepts monetary donations and works with community members who are interested in donating an animal. A Girl Scout recently built a habitat for the school’s three desert tortoises.
The school also has a number of partnerships, such as with a veterinarian’s office, that gives vaccinations to the large animals and with 4-H, which does sheep shearing.
Copyright (c) 2023, Las Vegas Review-Journal. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.