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Stories to Make You Smile: Stuck at Home With the Class Hamster

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mr rich.jpg

It's impossible to escape the daily torrent of grim news as coronavirus upends our home, school, and work lives. To help you cope with the chaos of school building closures, remote learning challenges, and deep fears about the health and safety of your students, co-workers, and loved ones, Education Week will bring you some moments of levity from the world of education. If you have a story you'd like to share: [email protected].


Third grader Claire Bleed had long wanted a pet hamster. Her parents? Skeptical of the idea.

But after her Little Rock school closed to combat the spread of the coronavirus, the 9-year-old got her wish in an unexpected way.

She had volunteered to take Mr. Rich, her science class's pet hamster, home for spring break. Then the two week break became an indefinite school closure. Now the Bleed family is sheltering in place with an unexpected house guest who just may become a permanent pet.

"The homeroom teacher has a guinea pig," said Claire's mother, Jill Bleed. "I think we really dodged a bullet."

Mr. Rich is a rodent without a permanent residence, at least for now. [Editor's note: We all know where this is headed.]

The Bleeds have "kept their circle pretty close," restricting contact with any outsiders, so they haven't even attempted a hamster handoff with Claire's teacher, who was moving to a new house over spring break and was probably going to rehome Mr. Rich at the end of the school year anyway, Jill Bleed said.

Stuck at home to juggle work and school with Claire and her little sister, Greta, Jill Bleed posts regular updates about the unplanned pet on her Facebook page: Mr. Rich reading with Claire. Mr. Rich counting the days of social isolation. Mr. Rich the unexpected social media influencer.

Claire had been campaigning for a hamster for some time. She'd made long list of chores she could do to raise $100, the amount she estimated she'd need for the animal, the supplies, and a cage.

After she missed a chance to take Mr. Rich home for the winter holidays, she asked her mom to make sure she was first in line for spring break.

Claire doesn't know why he's called Mr. Rich, recalling only that she had voted for a different name: Tubby.

The Bleeds secretly carried the cage past their two house cats and into Claire's room "like smuggling contraband into a prison," Jill Bleed said.

And, while the rest of the world was scouring shelves to find toilet paper, Jill Bleed was hunting down shredded bedding material for the pest—er, pet.

She finally ordered some on Amazon. She thought briefly about adding it to a list of "subscribe and save" items.

"But that would be admitting that this is a long-term commitment."

Photo: Mr. Rich, the hamster, at home with the Bleed family. --courtesy of Jill Bleed 

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