Bearded Dragon Helps Everyone Feel Welcome at Katherine Johnson Library

By Office of Communications
April 09, 2024

This week is National Library Week. In FCPS libraries, students develop knowledge and skills, experience a sense of belonging, find inspiration and support, and have the ability to freely pursue their personal interests and academic growth.

In many ways, the library at Katherine Johnson Middle School is the center of the school. Walking into the building, it’s directly in front of visitors, and contains doors on both ends so many people use it as a pass-through. 

Many of those who were using the library as a shortcut previously are now stopping to greet the library’s newest resident — Lady Bartholemew, Destroyer of Worlds. 

a close up of a hand holding a bearded dragon.

Lady Bart (for short) is a bearded dragon who has been brought to live at Katherine Johnson by Librarian Jenny Betten. Betten offered students a learning seminar, How to Train Your Dragon, to take during their advisory period. In the seminar, they researched bearded dragons, the benefits of a class pet, why bearded dragons are good pets, and how to care for them. 

Seventh grader Janae (pictured above in the pink sweatshirt) signed up for the seminar right away because “I love dragons. Plus, I love the library too.”

One of the things seventh grader Yahir (pictured above in the gray sweatshirt) learned was, “She likes to bathe in the sun because she likes warmth. I feel like I can relate because I like to get under a lot of blankets and warm up.”

After completing their research, the students presented a slide show proposal to one of the assistant principals to get permission to get the library pet. (Betten had gotten permission in advance so the students wouldn’t be working toward something impossible.) 

“From the development of their adoption plan to the care they provide on a daily basis, our students are learning the by-products of being goal-directed,” Tammara Silipigni, Katherine Johnson principal, said. “They have designed the care plan and now must implement it. This shows them how reaching our goals can bring a profound sense of personal satisfaction.”

Communicating, collaborating, and being goal-directed are all Portrait of a Graduate skills that students are encouraged to learn about and use.  

“Their collaboration and communication skills have improved as they designed and presented the adoption plan and now reach out to others to let them know of Lady Bart’s growth,” Silipigni continued. “It really has been a rewarding experience for all!”

a bearded dragon in its glass enclosure

Lady Bartholemew lives on a varied diet. She loves bananas and also enjoys live dubia roaches and hornworms. Betten has shared information on her diet with seventh grade science classes who were studying the food web. 

She has also been sharing the dragon’s weight and length with math teachers in case they want to chart her growth. At seven months old, Lady Bartholomew is about as long as she’ll get, but she’s expected to get a bit heavier. 

KJMS Battle of the Books t shirt featuring a bearded dragon. Students and staff at Katherine Johnson — including some who were not previously stopping by the library — are continually learning about Lady Bartholomew. The librarians enjoy the extra visits and that people are lingering more in the library and asking questions. Betten has made some posters related to the most interesting questions; such as bearded dragons can see more colors than humans do. 

They’ve dubbed Lady Bartholomew the school’s director of student engagement. She’s also the official mascot of the Battle of the Books team. 

Abner (pictured below) and Isabella (pictured above in the blue sweatshirt) are two eighth graders who help take care of Lady Bartholomew. Abner used to come to the library to check out lots of books (11 at a time), and started visiting more often during his lunch period. “She’s really compelling. I don’t know why. She makes you want to come up to her,” he said about Lady Bartholomew. 

Isabella offered to help out with the bearded dragon because she really likes animals. She also comes to the library to play chess and check out books (especially manga, a style of comics originating from Japan). 

A student holds up a bearded dragon.

Betten commented that the project is “getting students into the library who might not come in and grab a book. We want to be a safe space, where students can feel calm and accepted and be excited to be here.” 

Lady Bartholomew recently provided that to a student who was visiting a school counselor and was having a hard time calming down. The counselor brought him to the library and offered to let him hold the dragon for a few minutes. “He said thank you, that it helped,” said Emily Carmichael, head librarian. 

“If she’s safe, everyone is safe; and they see how her peers care for her,” Carmichael continued. “She’s a big empathy builder. Reading fiction is the number one way to build empathy, but getting to know people and animals is probably the number two way.”  

This project has also demonstrated that school librarians can “make a curriculum connection out of anything. You never know what they’re open to!”