QUEENS, N.Y. - Inside a lab at one Queens high school, students are greeted by their teacher — and a cockatoo named Winter.
The class lovebirds are actually lovebirds, and afternoon snacks are enjoyed not by the students, but by guinea pigs.
"He is very very cute, and he just loves apples and treats," student Elijah Alleyne said.
It's all part of the veterinary science program at George Washington Carver High School where the standard curriculum and advanced placement classes is supplemented with special academic courses and instruction in this small-animal lab. Today's lesson was about grooming.
"You have to clip the nails, check if there are any signs of cuts or sores or anything just to make sure when you put them in the water it doesn't affect them," Kayla Williams said.
The lab is full of animals like leopard geckos, doves, marsupials and tortoises. But on this day, the students are working with guinea pigs and rabbits in need of grooming.
"My favorite part about the program is handling the handling the animals, I love to handle the animals," Shakira Hamilton said.
The school is one of just three in the city that allow students to work on hands-on with live animals. Carver’s focus is small animals.
Tiffany Santiago is a graduate of the school who returned to be an instructor after years of working as a vet tech.
"I had a lot of experience and I wanted to come back and bring it to the kids," she said.
Students are also connected with opportunities outside of the classroom. Nathifa Neverson interned at the Queens Animal Hospital for two years - work that helped her to reimagine her career goals.
"I have changed my love for being a veterinarian to nursing, so this school has help me get into a nursing internship for over the summer this year," she said.
The students' interaction with the animals gets more and more hands on as they move into their junior and senior years.
"You get kids who have never seen a gerbil in their life and they don't know the difference between a frog and lizard," Santiago said of first-year students.
By the end, many of them have plans to become veterinarians, zoologists or vet techs.