The School Zone: News



A recent arrival in Erin Dahman’s third-grade Science and Math classroom at Treasure Forest Elementary is making a difference in students – in how they interact with each other, and in their joy to move ahead through game-based math problems on the Dream Box and Prodigy online programs.

Thanks to funds received in September through a J. Landon Short Mini-Grant, Ms. Dahman was able to buy a large cage, bedding and food for a rescue guinea pig she obtained through the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).

Nexen Petroleum, a Spring Branch ISD partner, provided funding for a series of STEM-focused mini-grants. Since Ms. Dahman’s request tied in with improving math skills, a portion of Nexen’s donation covered her project’s expenses.

When introducing the animal to her students on its first day in class, she told the students about the male guinea pig. He was one of a box full of baby guinea pigs dropped off on someone’s porch. The furry babies were found and taken to the SPCA for adoptions.

View a video of the guinea pig's first day in class here.

“He was abandoned!” said a third grader, using a big vocabulary word that was praised by the teacher.

The class then talked through what it means to be rescued, understanding that the animal had already been through a lot of scary things and was not ready to be held by anyone else but the teacher.

“Right now he is scared because he is in a new place,” said Ms. Dahman. “There is just one of him, and a lot of us. He needs to get used to us.”

The teacher let each student gently pet him with “two fingers” on his back to start the acclimation process for both the animal and the students.

Ms. Dahman has several reasons for applying for the grant to host an animal in her classroom.

“I want to use the animal to teach the students responsibility, empathy, and to be aware of the needs of others, not just their own,” she said. “I also want them to set and achieve goals, so there is tie-in to their Dream Box [math skills] learning.”

Dahman noticed from day one with the classroom animal the students were quieter, not wanting to startle the newcomer, and were heard reminding each other to not talk loudly.

“I was having a staring contest with him,” said a student. “He won!”

A democratic process was used to choose a name for the guinea pig took place. During Ms. Dahman's morning and afternoon classes when she introduced the guinea pig to the students, they made name suggestions, and then voted on the list in a raise-your-hand election, with eyes closed.

The final name, Jaden Bowser, is a combination of the winning names from both groups of students. 

“The kids came up with a compromise so that both classes could be represented,” the teacher said.

The animal will also serve as an incentive for the students to log as many minutes per week as possible on the math online learning programs in the classroom and at home.

"The friend who has the most minutes logged each week, will get to hold him first on Fridays,” she told her students. She explained that by doing their homework, they are in turn affecting the happiness of the animal.

“When we do math on Dream Box, we get stars and earn badges,” a third-grader said. “I think it’s fun.” He especially likes it when his achievements unlock a mystery game.


As students scaffold up through math skill levels, they earn points to build online wallpapers that are unique to each child. “I have a space [themed] one,” he said.

Dahman sees that welcoming Jaden Bowser will inspire her students to work hard on math, and build a sense of community in the classroom by reinforcing the concepts of team, family and growing together.

“I just knew these kids would love it,” she said. “It’s going to flip how we respond to each other.”

SBISD teachers can apply for J. Landon Short Mini-Grants each spring -- up to $500 for individual requests or up to $750 for team applications. In September 2019, more than $36,000 in grants were awarded to 62 teachers or teacher teams in the district.

Sometimes, it's all about FRIENDS. from SBISD on Vimeo.

If your organization would like to contribute to the Mini-Grant fund so creative and inspiring ideas can be realized by SBISD teachers, please contact, or Katie Redd, 712-251-2460. For tax purposes, donations are made through the Spring Branch Education Foundation.

Submitted by Becky Wuerth, SBISD Communications

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