ORLANDO, Fla. - Inside Kelly Roberts' second-grade class at Audubon Park School, you'll find more than books and posters lining the walls. Nearly a dozen reptiles, all of which are rescues, also live inside the classroom.
"It builds a community and it builds a knowledge that they can't get from books," Roberts said.
In her 31 years of teaching, Roberts said she's never had a student who is afraid of the animals.
"I bring them in at the beginning of the year, one by one. Once I explain to them what they're like, then they're not afraid. It's just that they don't know or understand the animals," she said.
Three students come to school early every day to feed the reptiles and clean their cages. Tara Johnson said this has been a game changer for her son, Liam.
"Last year, he wanted to be homeschooled, and this year, he wakes up every morning at 6 a.m. (and) he wants to get to school as soon as possible. When he gets home, he talks to me not only about what they're learning with the animals, but everything else they're learning," Johnson said. "I really could cry from happiness. Ms. Roberts has been a godsend for him."
One special pet is Princess Gracie, a green iguana Roberts rescued five years ago from an abusive situation that left her critically ill with severe burns.
"They told us not to even name her because she was so weak and so ill," Roberts said. "She's our miracle child."
Today, Princess Gracie is thriving and spends much of the day perched in a tree, looking out the window of Roberts' classroom. Gracie goes home with the teacher every evening, while the other pets remain in the classroom.
Roberts said not only do the animals teach the students responsibility, they also teach them that every creature deserves love and compassion.
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