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Billy, a blue-tongued skink, is living the good life in Britta Daubersmith’s class at the Marylhurst School in Oregon City.

by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Watching Billy, the blue-tongued skink, chow down on cat food are left to right, Cara, Avery and Sophia.The foot-long reptile has a heat lamp to warm the glass enclosure, a rock to use as a chin rest and a hollowed-out log to crawl under for naps.

by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Miles sits with Billy on his lap, joined by Jack and Sophia.Billy also has developed an ear for Frank Sinatra music, so yes, the blue-tongued skink appreciates the performer once called Ol’ Blue Eyes.

How do we know this?

“One day we were listening to Frank Sinatra, and Billy started bobbing his head,” said Sophia, 9.

The Marylhurst School is a nonprofit elementary school housed in the historic Barclay Building in Oregon City. It started as a preschool, but in 2012 opened a first-second grade blend; in 2013 a third-fourth grade blend rolled out; and a fifth-sixth grade blend will come along in 2014.

Daubersmith teaches the new third-fourth grade blend, and because half her class came from different schools, she decided a pet would help the students come together as a community.

Also, she wanted the students to do some thorough research about what kind of pet to get, and she felt the third-fourth grade blend was well suited to that task.

After looking at other possible pets, the students decided they wanted a skink, but it turned out to be quite expensive. When Grace, one of the students, went home and told her parents about the reptile, her father purchased Billy and loaned him to the class, Daubersmith said.

She wanted her students to become skink experts, but Daubersmith wanted a bit more, too. So she devised a project where her class would prepare an informational book about the care and feeding of Billy, which could then be shared with the younger students in the school.

The skink, which by the way, really does have a blue tongue, has turned out to be “surprisingly cuddly,” Daubersmith said, adding that sometimes he will burrow into a student’s sleeve, during silent reading time.

There has been one other benefit to having Billy in the classroom.

“There is a lot of fear around reptiles, because of snakes. So I thought knowing about a reptile could help dispel those fears,” Daubersmith said.

Care and feeding

by: PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Marylhurst teacher Britta Daubersmith gently removes Billy from his enclosure in her third-fourth grade classroom.At this point, Billy is still a baby, and the students don’t know if the skink is a boy or a girl, Sophia said. Right now they are feeding him wet cat food and brightly colored fruits and veggies, she added.

The skink is an omnivore, said Nathan, 9, who will in his natural habitat “eat everything from plants to meat and fruits and vegetables.”

Jack, 9, noted that Billy likes to sunbathe under his heat lamp, which is usually set at 90 degrees. This was no surprise to Carter, 10, who said that Billy is native to Australia and New Guinea, both noted for their warm climates.

“Billy is like a lizard and he sheds all over his body like a reptile. His toes sometimes fall off when he is shedding, but they do grow back,” Avery, 8, said.

She added, “He will play peek-a-boo and do staring contests with you and he will dance to music.”

“Sometimes he kisses people,” Sophia added.

Miles, 8, who is quite the reader, likes to sit in a quiet corner with a book in his hand and Billy on a towel in his lap.

“He has a good sense of humor and likes to throw his thermometer around,” Miles said.

Daubersmith has seen a classroom bond forming around the blue-tongued skink, adding, “It is really important for kids to learn to care for something, and sharing the responsibility for caring for Billy brings the kids together.”

To learn more about The Marylhurst School, visit themarylhurstschool.com or call 503-650-0978.

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