Sometimes Kevin the guinea pig thinks he knows the answer to math problems. Christina Huether-Burns, who teaches kindergarten at the Eagle Academy in Congress Heights, says Kevin sometimes pipes up from his enclosure when she’s asked the class about an equation over Zoom. “Oh Kevin, please don’t give away the answer,” Huether-Burns and the kids will caution him.
You see, the thing about Kevin is that he prefers to be closer to the center of attention. The guinea pig became part of Huether-Burns’s educational arsenal five years ago, after she left DC Public Schools to take a job at the charter. Kevin was much smaller in those days–Huether-Burns declines to share his current weight but says, “I am going to say he is a healthy guinea pig.”
Before the pandemic, Kevin spent his weekdays and nights at Eagle Academy, but now he’s camped out indefinitely at his old weekend pad: Huether-Burns’s apartment in Brightwood, where she tries to get him to try new foods, experiences she invariably shares with her class. Kevin is a picky eater–he prefers the stalks of lettuce, for example, and only reluctantly accepts store-bought parsley now that he’s tried the much better stuff Huether-Burns’s mother grows in Rockville.
There is the matter of Kevin’s name, so let’s get that out of the way. Frankly, it’s a result of some minor electoral irregularities: Huether-Burns asked students to submit three names. “Superheroes” was the top pick, and her students would not budge when she suggested they choose a specific superhero’s name instead. It was a similar deal with “Kyles,” the second-place winner–the students didn’t want a guinea pig who was simply named “Kyle.” So Kevin it was. “I would say Kevin was the best name that came out of it,” she says. “If I were to be honest, the votes were for Superheroes.”
Now that the kids are home, they meet with Huether-Burns in small groups, and as soon as is practical during each session she’ll bring Kevin out to greet his locked-down human friends. “In general, the biggest challenge that I have encountered is, when you’re in a kindergarten classroom, there’s a variety of ways you can engage students,” she says. “Kevin has been one way that we’ve been able to keep some of those older traditions in our classroom.” The kids like to check in on his eating experiments (grapes were an unexpected hit; Kevin doesn’t normally go for juicy fruit) and show him off to their siblings and tell him their news. They also like to read to him and make connections through him: One time, she says, when she mentioned the word carrot, many of the kids noted that Kevin likes carrots.
Zoom is about as far from the action as Kevin likes to get. A few years ago Huether-Burns’s principal came in for a visit, and after a few minutes Kevin began to squeal loudly. Huether-Burns explained to her boss that she had neglected to greet Kevin when she arrived. She said her hellos, and he was just fine afterward.