Critter Crew cares
Grade 3 students poses with animals in their science room 

It’s a place to learn how to record and analyze data, and complete hands-on projects like fossil–making and the egg-drop challenge. But Lower School Science Teacher Beth Hughes’ classroom is also home to a special “crew” with a very important job. 

The Critter Crew is a volunteer service group made up of Lower School students who have a passion for caring for the classroom pets. 

“It's fun being around other people who also like animals,” said Felix ’32. 

The crew, formerly known as Animal Crew, was founded in 2000 by Hughes and then- Grade 4- student Nile Marquedant ’09.  

Hughes said Marquedant noticed she could use some help caring for the many pets that enriched the Lower School science program.  

“Caring for all the different animals in Mrs. Hughes’ class is still one of my fondest memories from my Lower School days,” said Marquedant, now a Global Health Diplomacy Officer for the U.S. Department of State. “It was always a delight to interact with all the rabbits, hamsters, turtles, and frogs that brought an extra bit of excitement to what was already a wonderful class.” 

These days, Room 201 in the Freeman Family Lower School houses two chinchillas, one hamster, one gecko, and two gerbils. Still, the tasks remain the same for the nearly 50 Critter Crew members. Boys rotate in groups during recess to clean cages, feed, and provide water for the animals.  

There is also plenty of time for observation and cuddles. 

“They can bring out joy in you if you're feeling a little sad because you get to play with an animal at school and it’s special," said Jake ’32.  

Hughes said she is impressed by the dedication, teamwork, and efficiency of her volunteers.  

Grade 3 student poses with Oreo 

“The boys grow a lot from their Critter Crew experience. They develop responsibility, commitment, teamwork, leadership, time management, and communication skills, as well as deepening care and respect for living things,” explained Hughes.  

“You have to be really careful because it’s very easy to harm them considering how much bigger we are than them,” said Jack ’32. 

Hughes said boys can visit with the animals even if their class is not scheduled to visit her room. Boys can be found surrounded by energetic chinchillas hopping around an exercise pen, watching how the hamster or the gerbils navigate a maze, and observing how the lizard hunts for crickets. 

For Nicolas ’24, now a senior, his Animal Crew involvement started with recess, but quickly grew from there.  

“I started showing up every day,” Nicolas  recalled. “The best part was the consistent task of taking care of the animals and the small day-to-day problem solving involved. I'll never forget trying to extract cricket guts to feed a lizard who was too sick to eat a whole cricket.” 

Nicolas and Marquedant agree; they’re happy Critter Crew is still going strong and giving young Bears the same kind of hands-on experience they had. 

“I think it's a great way to learn about working on a team and performing tasks that aren't graded by a teacher but rather dictated by the necessities of the animals themselves,” added Nicolas. 

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