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Have bunnies, will travel

By Staff
NATURAL BEHAVIOR Becky Boswell, right, Raheem Collier and Corderous Taylor observe the bunny house during teacher Ronnie Shumaker's class at Oakland Heights Elementary. The fifth grade class uses rabbits to study genetics. Photo by Carisa McCain/The Meridian Star
By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
May 3, 2002
Students in Ronnie Shumaker's fifth-grade class at Oakland Heights Elementary School are so interested in their work they regret having to start middle school next semester.
The class has several breeds of rabbits on campus it keeps in a "bunny barn." Students built the cages and barn last year under Shumaker's supervision, using what they learned about math in the process.
Then, while working on the project, students have learned about life and death. On Thursday morning, when students checked on the rabbits, they discovered babies had been born.
Last year, Shumaker's students raised young commercial rabbits to eating size and then shipped them back to a farmer for processing.
Students study genetics
This year, Shumaker's students are concentrating on registered show rabbits and learning about genetics by studying the pedigrees.
The rabbits are also an effective discipline tool. Students who display good behavior are allowed to make daily "bunny observations" for 15 minutes during the class period.
Students monitor when the rabbits eat, drink, and nurse their babies. Each student also keeps a daily "bunny journal" on the rabbits' behavior, which sharpens their writing skills.
Rabbits stay at school
Only the female rabbits are kept at school. The rabbits are bred at Shumaker's farm, where he keeps the male rabbits.
Beau Boutwell, 11, said he likes studying the rabbits because their nature is totally different from humans. He used the example that rabbits usually have three to four babies at a time and they are able to have babies every 30 days.
Shumaker wants to take the bunnies on the road and let his fifth-graders share their observations with first- and second-grade classes within a 30-40 mile radius.
He said his students would have to use verbal communication skills and create props to go along with their presentations to younger students.
Grant aids class
The Oakland Heights bunnies were bought through a BellSouth educational grant Shumaker has been awarded for six straight years. He has used chickens and pigeons with classes before.
Because the students have ownership in the animals, Shumaker said they are reading more about rabbits because they are interested in them.
He said there is nothing in school curriculum about teaching stewardship, but his students have learned what it means.

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