Huff the dragon: Middle school students enjoy class pet

Sonja Keith
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by Sonja J. Keith

Students at Courtway Middle School in Conway are enjoying the company of a special class pet – a bearded dragon named Huff.

Carrie Leger, a sixth grade science and math teacher at the school, received a Pets in the Classroom grant to purchase the bearded dragon, whose home is primarily in the classroom while school is in session. During school breaks, Huff goes home with Carrie.

Born in Alaska, Carrie has spent the majority of her life in Perry County and is a graduate of Perryville High School. She is in her seventh year of teaching at Courtway Middle School. She completed an internship at the school and after graduation from the University of Central Arkansas, applied for an open position. “This is where I wanted to be.” She has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UCA.

Students in Carrie Leger’s class were “Loving LIFE” and Huff.

Huff – whose formal name is Hufflepuff and is taken from Harry Potter books – is one and a half years old. Carrie, a fan of Harry Potter, chose the name because it represents loyalty and friendliness. “I’ve always wanted an animal for my classroom,” she said, explaining that when she approached Principal Amy Jordan she was receptive to the idea. “My older sister had a bearded dragon and I really enjoyed hers.”

Carrie said for some of her students, Huff is the first bearded dragon they have ever seen. “They love seeing him and getting to hold him for the first time.” She uses his presence in the classroom to help create a good learning environment. “I tell them it needs to be quiet or she’s going to hide. If they want to see her, they have to be quiet and calm.”

Huff is pretty chilled, according to Carrie. “During tests, sometimes I will take her out and walk around the room with her. I tell them she’s helping me watch.”

Student reactions to Huff vary, but overall there is shared curiosity about the bearded dragon. “Some are super excited and some are scared. It really depends on the kid.”

Carrie involves students in Huff’s care. They help make sure she has water, feed her cockroaches and clean her sand. “Sometimes, students sneak lettuce in their pockets to feed her.”

In addition to the atmosphere that Huff helps create, Carrie looks for other opportunities to incorporate the class pet into learning. For example, she created a math lesson for her students to help calculate the size of the cage suitable for Huff and what the cost would be.

Prior to purchasing Huff, Carrie did her research on potential class pets and encourages other educators to do the same. “A lot of other lizards are not as docile.” 

Carrie wants to spread the word about the Pets in the Classroom grant program in hopes that other teachers will see the value. She said the grant is renewable and not limited to a one-time application. She received a $100 grant to apply to the setup expenses which totaled about $300 after store discounts. She spends about $60 every four to six weeks on cockroaches.

As a student, Carrie said she was always interested in teachers who had a class pet. “She’s sort of an avenue to build that trust,” she said.