Just a lil’ nugget of wisdom

By Rita Halter Thomas

Mention the word “nugget” and most kids envision something from a drive-through window, but students at Jim Stone Elementary School picture a reddish-brown ball of fur living in Angela Ladd’s classroom. His name is Nugget, and he’s a 4-year-old guinea pig.

Joshua Bell (from left), Kynley Morman and Evy Davis love visiting Nugget while at school at Jim Stone Elementary School in Conway.

“Nugget belongs to everyone…the students just love him,” said Ladd, a resource teacher for K-4. Nugget is not just a classroom pet. He’s also a teacher’s aide and a friend to the students.

“Lots of our curriculum is based on him,” she said. “We use Nugget in writing prompts, such as asking students to write about where Nugget should go on his summer vacation, what should be on his Christmas list, or what he might do over the weekend. Some students read him stories. They may not want to read out loud, but they will read to Nugget.” 

Students learn a sense of responsibility caring for Nugget. “All students in the school know Nugget and help with him, not just my students,” their teacher continued. Fourth grader Evy Davis was selected to get fresh vegetables from the cafeteria for him every day. Another fourth grader, Kynley Morman, reads to him and helps care for him. “She likes to get him fresh water, feed him, and will sweep around his cage when hay gets on the floor.” 

Second-grader Joshua Bell also has a special bond with Nugget and loves to give him hay, talk to him every day =and make sure he’s okay. Students even make sure Nugget is dressed for each season or holiday, and they decorate his home as well. He’s all set for fall and Halloween.

Ladd refers to Nugget as a great “social emotional” pet. “Sometimes students may not want to talk to a teacher, but they will tell Nugget because he’s their friend, and he keeps secrets,” she said. “Nugget is also really good at calming kids down if they’re having a rough day. A teacher may let their student come in and just say ‘hi’ to him for a minute. He’s good at easing some of their anxiety.” Nugget is even great during check-in, when a student has difficulty transitioning from home to the classroom. He gives students something to look forward to, and to be excited about. 

While he may look all cute and cuddly, Nugget does not like to be held. He enjoys company and is okay being petted, but he is not so good with being held. This gives students a relatable understanding of boundaries, respect, and behaviors with others. Students learn not everyone enjoys hugs, loud noises or being touched, and that it is okay to be different.

Nugget is vocal, and students learn from his “language.” He makes specific sounds when Ladd enters the room, which differs from when he hears Evy. He responds to Kynley differently than Joshua or others. Laughing, she said, “and he makes a different noise when I open my refrigerator.”

Students also learn from Nugget’s behavior. When he’s excited, he hops and jumps around in his cage. This is called popcorning. Ladd said, “We talk about the emotions he has. He has emotions just like we do. He can be scared, happy, hungry or sleepy, just like we can.” 

Did she say hungry? Anyone else thinking the students at Jim Stone Elementary School will make sure Nugget gets plenty of green leafy vegetables, and nothing from a drive-through window?