Walter Hill Elementary School has gone not to the dogs, but to the chickens and pigs.
Principal Helen Campbell endorsed School Resource Officer Erica Brinkley’s idea to raise chickens at school so students could learn about raising animals with the motto “getting back to the basics.”
“We’re teaching students the basics of where eggs come from and taking care of animals,” Campbell said as she pets the silky hen, Marge. “We are building responsibility.”
But they’ve found extended benefits as well.
Campbell allows children to pet one of the gentle chickens to calm anxiety. One shy student seems reluctant to talk to the teachers but will talk to the chickens.
“We hope to use the chickens as therapy to keep kids calm,” Campbell said.
Special needs pre-school students and behavior intervention students help feed the chickens.
“It’s pretty cool and just relaxing,” Campbell said.
Brinkley became the school’s SRO in January. Since SROs are encouraged to get involved in students’ activities, she thought they might like the animals also used as a petting zoo.
“The kids get their hands dirty and learn to do things for themselves,” said Brinkley.
She initially raised the chicks in her office, then moved them into a coop a teacher provided.
Fifth graders Andrea Campbell and Riley Sims became enthusiastic.
“When Officer B first got them, we were freaking out,” Andrea said. “They were palm-sized. We got used to them.”
“One of the chicks, HeiHei, jumped out of the pool and went around the school,” Riley said.
Other students became involved when each house of students (based on the Harry Potter books) named their own chickens.
As the program grew, a parent donated a set of pot belly pigs named Harry and Hermione after the Harry Potter characters. Campbell, Andrea and Riley discussed researching where the pigs originated.
The chickens and pigs are housed in coops in a fenced-in area where children can watch them during recess. The pigs created their own mud puddle where they wallow. Students watch the animals for classroom lessons.
They now hope someone will donate a bottle-fed goat that will eat the grass.
Brinkley recycled items to build coops. A teacher worked out an arrangement where Lascassas Feed Store donates the food. Students raised $286 for supplies and a teacher obtained a $500 BEP grant. Brinkley applied for a grant from the Rutherford County Soil Conservation.
During the summer, Brinkley will foster the chickens at her home with her husband and five children where she raises chickens. The pigs will be fostered at the assistant principal Laura Heath’s home.
When school resumes after summer break, Brinkley hopes the students will plant simple crops like butternut squad and fall flowers for a plant and vegetable sale. In the spring, she hopes the students will raise tomatoes and peppers for a “fruits of our labor salsa party.”