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Hands-On Veterinary Lessons

NVCC students teach elementary and middle school youngsters.

Northern Virginia Community College assistant professor Suzanne "Suzy" Aller likes to see her students "show off" on Tuesday nights.

Second-year veterinary technology students are teaching a four-week 4-H veterinary science course to six elementary and middle school students.

"It's a big reward to see them put their knowledge into action and show off their competence," said Aller, faculty advisor and assistant professor of veterinary technology at NVCC's Loudoun campus.

For this year's course, 24 vet tech students are preparing and presenting lessons by working in groups of six students for each lesson. Loudoun area students ages 10 to 13 are taking the course, which is based on the recommended 4-H curriculum for veterinary science and is taught at NVCC's veterinary technology building.

"I don't think you are ever too young to work with animals and to develop that desire to work with them," said vet tech student Michelle Reed, who lives in Lovettsville.

THE COURSE focuses on the job functions of a veterinary technician, the anatomy and physiology of domestic animals, husbandry issues such as nutrition, housing and well care, animal diseases and clinical techniques, among other topics. The vet tech students teach the lessons through lecture, demonstrations with visual aides and hands-on lessons.

Dawn Magnone asked students at last week's husbandry class whether dogs and cats given away for free are really free, then explained the costs associated with owning a pet. As students asked questions, Beth Wilson stood in front of the room with six-year-old Jodi tied to a leash, trained to sit patiently on a table. The Cairn terrier was awaiting Wilson's grooming lesson, where she planned to show students how to check an animal's eyes and ears and to demonstrate grooming techniques.

"It's an opportunity for them to be exposed to something they wouldn't be in everyday life," said vet tech student Ginger Phemister, who has been involved with 4-H for 18 years. She explained the basics of animal nutrition.

Eleven-year-old Kerri Sarver signed up for the course to learn more about the veterinary field, since she plans to be a veterinarian or possibly a professional woman's basketball player. "If you love animals, you got to come here," said Sarver, who lives in Leesburg. "I'm really enjoying it. We got to see the pets. That was really cool. We got to walk around and see what the rooms were used for."

Sarver was referring to the first lesson on Feb. 4, which provided information on vet tech careers and the care provided in animal hospitals and included a tour of the veterinary technology building, which houses cats and dogs on site.

THE SECOND LESSON focuses on husbandry issues, the third lesson on the healthy animal and physical examinations, and the fourth lesson on the sick animal with information on the diagnosis of diseases.

"They are given a brief overview and exposure to the kind of things they could expect if they were to enter the profession," Aller said. "They learn more about a profession or potential career that they're interested in."

Duncan Black of Hillsboro is taking the 4-H course for the third time. "It's been lots of fun. I get to learn about animals, things like that, and I get to be with the animals. I'm kind of a nurturing type person," said the 13 year old.

"These kids seem to be fascinated by mother nature," Aller said. "They seem to be very interested. ... They often come with a good background in animal care and already are in a 4-H program."

Forty-eight students are enrolled in NVCC's on-campus vet tech program, along with another 28 students taking the program's online courses. Students who complete the two-year program earn an associate's of applied science in veterinary technology. They are required to teach the 4-H course, which is offered through the 4-H extension office. Other veterinarians also offer the course.

"We have a unique situation. We have a formal classroom environment with a laboratory and lots of visual aides that are used in education," Aller said.

The 4-H course has a limit of 15 students.