Oh, Monday mornings. The usual groggy eyed students, the old coffee pot, the same heavy door. Walking up to her second story classroom, Sara Parhikhteh, an ARS math teacher known as Mrs. Par, expected the same white walled classroom she arrives to every Monday morning.
Instead, as she peered through the small window in the door to her room, she noticed her projector and binders damaged and sprawled across the floor. She took a step back, and one thought went through her teacher mind.
Par, who had heard a suspect raccoon moving around and growling in the ceiling before Thanksgiving break, rushed to the office to report her suspicions.
For the next thirty minutes, she watched as the thirty-pound raccoon appeared sleepily between the binders in her bookshelf, proceeded to wreak total havoc in her room, and was finally coaxed into a carrier (after some serious hissing) by the animal handler from Austin Pest Control.
“It destroyed many of my binders, my projector, scratched up the wall, urinated on the floor, and even destroyed my student’s projects,” Par said matter-of-factly.
While Mrs. Par seemed relatively calm (and a little miffed) about the raccoon, the incident resulted in some pretty wild reactions throughout the school. Journalism teacher, Sarah Walker, who believes raccoons are her ‘spirit animal’, was pleasantly surprised by the forest visitor.
“I took a couple students and we looked through the window, we could see his little raccoon face. He looked very peaceful and happy, just kind of dozing in the bookshelf,” Walker said. “It was a little scary, and there was one second where I thought maybe this isn’t my spirit animal. But I’ve decided, it still is, because I too can change and be a little feisty in the right situation.”
Students who saw the event weren’t necessarily as enthusiastic about the raccoon as Walker, but the sighting still left an impression. “The raccoon was in the bookshelf, looking at us. It was really big, like 30 pounds. It was like a… a big gray cotton ball,” said sophomore Annika Lopez.
No matter what students and teachers feel about raccoons though, the fact remains that this is not the first time wild animals have made it into ARS, and especially not the first time we’ve seen a raccoon on campus. In 2009, a raccoon was found in an upstairs bathroom, stirring up a lot of rampant emotion.
“I just remember Ms. Diaz being in such a state of disarray, she was really upset that the raccoon had been everywhere. We were sixth graders, so there was a lot of screaming,” senior Ally Reznicek said, remembering the incident.
Just a few weeks ago, a raccoon was also spotted in the gym’s food closet at a basketball game. “Three eighth graders came running up here and they couldn’t get their words out and I actually thought someone was getting attacked by the raccoon because they were so excited. When I went down there, you could see that the raccoon had been there, but I didn’t see it,” high school assistant principal Anah Sikorsky-Wiersema said.
While I couldn’t find any exact statistic on how often wildlife make their way into schools (I expect it varies greatly on a building’s age and location), our school certainly seems to be packing in the critters. The Austin Professional Wildlife Removal website notes that raccoons, experts at getting into cozy indoor spaces, are one of their most common calls for pest removal.
“At other schools I have worked at, I have not seen raccoons,” Wiersema said. “I don’t know if it’s (the raccoon problem) a specific Ann Richards thing, but our building is pretty old and old buildings have creatures unfortunately. I don’t have any theories, but I do think it’s gross.”
Raccoons aren’t the only critters that have been spotted at ARS though, other wildlife sightings on our campus have included everything from reptiles to birds to rodents.
“In this school I’ve seen a snake near the drainage pipe, and the average bugs,” said Reznicek. “A rat was spotted in Mrs. DiCuffa’s room two years ago, and they’ve been in the cafeteria.”
While there may be petting zoos hiding in the walls here at school, Par says she’s now much more prepared to face animals in her classroom. “I would just call Austin Pest Control if it happened again,” she said. As for her feelings on generally shy, nimble raccoons? “I don’t like them anymore than I did before.”
For now, Ms. Par is focusing on getting her classroom back in order and staying on the lookout for other critters sleeping in her math class.
As for wildlife in the future though, the administration seems to have differing opinions on how to handle the problem.
“I don’t actually like raccoons, I think they are gross, and I don’t want them in our classrooms.” Wiersema said definitively, echoing Ms. Par’s sentiments. Kris Waugh, academic dean, had different feelings on the critters hanging out in classrooms. “I believe raccoons do feel comfortable in our community, and they feel at home. And I think that’s not a bad thing really, because raccoons can be cute, and cuddly,” said Waugh.