Brittany Sentelle’s classes at Frederick High School grew by 20 paws this spring.
Five fluffy kittens were added to the agriculture teacher’s classroom about three weeks ago as part of a foster partnership with the Humane Society of Washington County. Chewbacca, Daisy, Hazel, Rascal and Onyx are about 5 weeks old.
Sentelle is the FFA adviser and teaches animal classes. Her Pre-Veterinary Small class is aimed at educating students on animals ranging in size from a mouse to a dog.
Her coworker, Tracey Moore, who lives in Washington County, has fostered animals for years from the Humane Society of Washington County. When Moore heard the humane society needed people to care for their littlest kittens around the clock, she reached out to FHS to see if students could get involved.
“These students are special,” Sentelle said Tuesday morning as her pupils cuddled the cats. “They have big hearts, and they are giving it all to these kittens.”
Moore, a special education instructional assistant, takes the kittens home each night and on weekends. She also takes them to the veterinarian every two weeks.
Sentelle’s classes essentially serve as kitten day care, Moore joked, while students learn hands-on skills.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said ninth grader Mariela Silva. “They’re so playful.”
Hazel, one of four black kittens, nibbled on students’ fingers with her tiny teeth, batted a ball around on the table, then climbed on top of a lunchbox. As students chatted, they used their arms as barriers to prevent the curious kittens from falling off the tables.
“They move around a lot, so you just kind of have to watch them,” junior Medina Hashim said.
Hashim filled out a kitten report card to record Hazel’s weight, behavior and other details. Students across several of Sentelle’s classes help look after the kittens, but the Pre-Vet Small class is particularly focused on their care and tracking their health, according to Sentelle.
Roughly 26 students and two staff members underwent 10 hours of training offered by the humane society to prepare, Sentelle said, and triple that number usually stops by the classroom daily to see the felines.
Principal David Franceschina, in an email, expressed pride in the students and staff.
“As a city school, we don’t always get recognized for having such a vibrant agricultural/animal science program. This has been a wonderful experience for our students,” Franceschina wrote.
Junior Jessyka Velasquez is not enrolled in the Pre-Vet Small class, but she has that period free and uses the time to help with the kittens. Sentelle welcomed her to get certified in kitten care.
“It was just fun learning all of that,” Velasquez said. “It’s also like a journey to see how they improve.”
Students got lessons in food portioning, how to give vaccinations, bathing techniques, signs of disease and more. The students clean up after the kittens, monitor their food and water and, of course, play with them.
Rascal, a gray tabby, scampered over Luis Casiano’s chest.
“I really built a strong bond with him,” said Casiano, who is in 11th grade.
Rascal batted a pencil on the table and wrapped his paws around a water bottle. When the kittens first arrived, Casiano said, they were often sleepy. Nowadays, they are more curious and playful.
Casiano hopes to convince his family to let him adopt Rascal. The students will have first dibs to adopt the kittens through the humane society (with parental approval), according to Sentelle.
Competition is high, though. Several students expressed hope that they could bring a kitten home. They need to be 8 weeks old and weigh at least 2 pounds before they can find their forever home, according to Moore.
As the class went on, the kittens’ energy level waned. Onyx fell asleep in the arms of the fuzzy pink sweater worn by Andrea Johnson, a senior.
The foster program helps free up space at the Humane Society of Washington County. Kimberly Jones, the director of animal initiatives for the humane society, said everyone benefits.
“Our shelter only has a finite amount of space. Foster homes allow us to expand capacity beyond our walls and into our community,” Jones wrote in an email. “We were thrilled to have yet another outlet for kittens, as kittens fare much better outside of the shelter where they are not exposed to disease that can be brought in by other animals.”
Two- and four-legged participants in the program stand to benefit from the experience, according to Moore.
Kittens are socialized and cared for around the clock. The students get a hands-on educational opportunity and a little boost in serotonin, which Moore and Sentelle said is greatly needed after COVID-19 affected down in Frederick County.
“The mental health of the students has drastically improved,” Moore said.
She and Sentelle hope to host another kitten program in the fall.
“The kittens needed us,” Sentelle said, “but we needed them.”