Four-legged friends enliven Ag classes

Black dog lays on the floor

Students in Mrs. Treen’s Animal Science class are getting a living, breathing look at their subject thanks to two new furry members of the Herkimer Jr./Sr. High School community.

Just before winter break, Mrs. Treen introduced her students to Jenny, her 6-year-old German Shepherd dog. Jenny has been coming to school with Mrs. Treen almost every day, getting to know all the students who come through Room 150.

For Mrs. Treen’s Animal Science students, Jenny provides a living example of some of the things the class will be studying this semester.

“We’re going to use her as our guinea pig,” Mrs. Treen explained as Jenny patiently navigated the busy classroom full of students.

Also in the classroom is a hamster, who Mrs. Treen’s high school students are helping care for.

“They’ll take him out and put him on their desk, they’re the ones cleaning his cage and feeding him,” Mrs. Treen explained, adding, “All the students have been really respectful to the animals and have been handling them really well.”

Student kneeling, reaching toward dog

The Agriculture program at Herkimer is in its first semester, but Mrs. Treen hopes the roots she is putting out now will bear fruit in future years to come.

Read more: “High school to add agriculture classes”

And having Jenny in the classroom is a big part of that.

“With Jenny here, students are excited to be here,” Mrs. Treen explained, adding that having something to care for — whether it’s a dog, a hamster or a plant — has helped her students engage more fully with their subjects.

“When Jenny walks around the room, they’re paying attention to her, they’re staying focused instead of spacing out,” Mrs. Treen said. “It’s a sense of responsibility and of being proud of what they can do.”

Read more: Meet Jenny

Alongside the real live animals are life-size models of livestock that Mrs. Treen’s students painted to show the skeletal structures of each animal. The models were funded through an Agriculture Education Incentive grant from the New York State FFA organization.

Model of a pig with skeleton painted on

This spring, Mrs. Treen is hoping to get her students out of the classroom and into the field to see agriculture in action.

“I want them to see the impact agriculture has on their lives, and to understand why farming is important,” Mrs. Treen said.