The circumstances of one’s birth are not necessarily indicative of the rest of one’s life. Nothing exemplifies that notion better than Atlas, the Kindergarten Kitten.
Salem Elementary School kindergartners, with the help of their teachers, wrote and published a book about their experience raising a stray kitten. The kitten was found last August by Brittney Goad, an assistant kindergarten teacher.
When the kitten was found, he was only 2 weeks old, Goad said.
“His eyes weren’t open; his breathing was very shallow. I was able to get him into the vet the same day,” she said.
The vet’s prognosis wasn’t good. The vet explained that raising the kitten would be difficult because kittens that young either need their mother or need to be bottle-fed, and the kitten was struggling with fleas.
“I said, ‘Let’s give it a shot.’ I took him home, and was bottle-feeding him, and had to toilet him because they can’t do that at that age,” Goad said.
School started the following week. As teachers began preparing their classrooms, Goad sought permission from Salem Elementary’s principal to use the kitten as a therapy cat as long as no child was found to be allergic to it. The principal agreed.
After the school year began, waivers were sent home and were signed by the kindergartners’ parents.
Once the waivers were signed, “Atlas came (to school) every day with me,” Goad said.
The class received grants for Atlas’ food and litter, as well as educational books on how to care for a kitten, from the Sacred Heart Children’s Center and the Cultural Foundation of Harrison County.
These funds also were used to build a play-doctor and play-dentist area in the classroom. The hope is that if children have positive experiences in these play environments, they won’t feel anxiety when they actually have to go to the doctor or the dentist, kindergarten teacher Jan Phillips said.
A portion of the funds also was used to publish the book “Saving Atlas, the Kindergarten Kitten.”
The book is a mix of photos of Atlas, along with drawings and handwritten excerpts from students’ memories of watching the kitten grow over the past eight months.
As well as being a regular member of the class, Atlas also celebrated holidays by dressing up with the kids and teachers.
For Halloween, the kids, teachers and cat dressed up as the titular dogs from “101 Dalmatians.” Atlas dressed up like a leprechaun for St. Patrick’s Day. He then was dressed as a pink bunny for Easter, and he wore Santa’s hat for Christmas.
Salem Elementary’s kindergarten class includes one student who is nonverbal, Goad said.
“There was a way for Atlas to connect with him on a whole different level. He was just so calming. It was pretty neat to see that,” Goad said.
Goad’s daughter, Aubrey, doesn’t go to Salem Elementary, but she was a big help when raising Atlas.
“She put many hours in. We had to wake up, like for a real baby, every two hours and feed him. Aubrey picked out many of Atlas’ costumes,” Goad said.
Teachers, parents, students and the media met at Salem Elementary’s Author Night on Wednesday to see “Saving Atlas, the Kindergarten Kitten” unveiled for the first time.
The book states that Atlas loves coming to “work” and that he plays with the children during recess.
The preface of “Saving Atlas” concludes: “The students have learned how to care for an animal and how responsible you need to be. All of the children have benefited in some way having him in class. The children have learned how to care for an animal, and Atlas has learned that children can be trusted. Over time, he has grown into such a sweet cat who has made a difference in the lives of the classroom, the teachers and the rest of the students and staff at Salem Elementary.”