Lizard love: Cabot students enjoy school mascot

Story and photos
by Sonja J. Keith

Cabot elementary students are learning a lot from school mascot Rex, a bearded dragon.

The 2-year-old lizard spends time between Northside and Southside elementary schools in the Cabot School District, under the care of science lab specialist Carla Eifling. Both schools consider the lizard their mascot.

“He’s well-loved at both schools,” she said.

Eifling has worked for the Cabot School District for nine years. She has been assigned to the Northside school for six years, with three years at Southside. As she travels to each school, Rex comes along in his special car seat.

Each Cabot elementary school student spends 40 minutes each week in the science lab. Between the two schools, Rex sees 800 students each week. “That’s a lot of faces.”

In addition to the science curriculum presented by the regular classroom instructor, students have an opportunity to experience experiments and other hands-on activities in the science labs. “I love it. It’s a great opportunity that the Cabot School District has. We’re a bonus.” The five science lab instructors teach the 4,000 elementary school children in the district. “I’m fortunate to be one of the five.”

Every science lab in each of the nine elementary schools in Cabot has animals. “I think I’m the only one with a bearded dragon,” explaining that she previously had leopard geckos. “Bearded dragons are so much more personable.” Eifling has other animals in her labs, including tarantulas (Boss at Southside and Harriet at Northside), turtles (Leonardo and Franklin at Southside, and Zoom at Northside), fish and hermit crabs.

Eifling describes Rex as docile and very loving, a result of being acclimated to the classroom and being around students. She said bearded dragons will typically puff up their beard when they are upset but she’s only seen Rex demonstrate that behavior once. At that time, students were being loud and moving around, and Rex was still getting adjusted to a new cage. “He was scared. I’ve never seen it since.”

Rex is very social, too, and sometimes will tap the glass of his cage for attention. He and Eifling have a special bond and sometimes he will turn his head if he hears her voice. “I know that sounds strange but I do love him.”

While sometimes students are initially fearful of Rex, most become acquainted and enjoy petting Rex. No one is made to hold or touch the lizard.

“Before the end of the year, they are not afraid,” she said. “He’s the most gentle. I got a winner.”

Students sometimes ask if Rex breathes fire, which he doesn’t. They also ask if Rex can bite and Eifling points out that he has little bitty teeth.

“He’s never bitten, but he can bite.”

When not in his cage, Rex can be found hanging on Eifling’s clothing close to her shoulder or on a desk as students do their work.

Students having a bad day or those with special needs find comfort with Rex. “He’s their ‘go-to.’” Rex and the other animals in the lab may also be a child’s only opportunity to be around a pet. “This gives them the opportunity to touch, hold and love these animals like it was theirs.”

Rex is also incorporated into curriculum, from time to time. Eifling said classes have examined the lizard’s skin using a microscope connected to her computer.

Students are also involved in caring for Rex, who likes to eat superworms, crickets and turnip greens. They are taught early on to be respectful and not to bang on the glass of his cage or any of the other animals. They are also instructed to be kind and gentle and to treat him with love, as they should also treat humans. “They can be mean and bite, but that’s when they’ve been antagonized and teased.”

As students finish their work and when time allows, they can go around the room and see the animals. If the class finishes their assignment and there is time, Eifling will get Rex out of his cage. Sometimes, as an incentive for good behavior, when she sees students hard at work, Rex will get to join them at their table.

“I love that the kids love him,” Eifling said. “I’m glad I have him.”

Bearded dragons typically live a long time, and Eifling hopes that Rex will be around for a while so more students can experience him. “I want him to be happy and healthy.” Eifling wants Rex to be a special memory for her students of their time in elementary school.

Eifling takes Rex home with her every day. He also resides at her home during school breaks. “He loves to visit my parents,” she said. “My mother is 85 and she loves him.” Eifling said her husband has grown to love Rex, too, and now the lizard is considered part of the family.

“Everyone else has a dog, and I have a dragon.”