Lovin Elementary student Aiden Williams opens the door to the school's walk-in chicken coop for siblings Katherine and Adrian Deventure. (Photo contributed)

Chickens join the curriculum at Lawrenceville school

Students at Lovin Elementary have a clear answer for that age-old conundrum: What came first, the chicken or the egg?

In the case of the Lawrenceville school, it was the egg.

Two years ago, as the school was working on its STEM certification, each grade committed to a related legacy project. Students planted roses and snap dragons, created glass decorations and wind chimes, erected vertical gardens, painted flower boxes and built a pegboard for math problems. Second graders, who were learning about life cycles, went with chickens.

“We had to write a proposal to show how it fit in with learning standards,” explained STEM content specialist Gerin Hennebaul. “And we had to figure out what community partners might work with us. We did, and we got a chicken coop approved. The pre-K got us started by hatching some baby chicks.”

The critters outgrew their small coop, prompting Hennebaul to reach out to the cluster’s Archer High for help. Engineering teacher Eric Stoker had his class research different designs and build models so the Lovin kids could pick what they liked best.

“Then about 20 students from my upper-level class built it,” said Stoker. “It was a three-day field trip. We gave them a materials list, and they provided what we needed.”

During the process, the Lovin students talked with the Archer team about the math and science involved in building a coop big enough to house 10 hens. Since the birds moved in, the lessons have continued.

“We knew zero about chickens, especially what they can and can’t eat,” said Hennebaul. “Since we have lettuce in our vertical gardens, the kids came up with feeding them that. The lettuce isn’t going to waste, and we have healthy chickens. The third graders came up with a cooler to hold water for them so it doesn’t freeze in the winter. And we’re now adding gutters to the coop so the chickens can drink out of our rain barrel. It’s been a way to get kids to solve real-world problems.”

Every grade participates in caring for the chickens that have only escaped into the open once, resulting in a hilarious video of teachers chasing them down. And while they’re a feature of fun as well as learning, the birds have become a source of nutrition, too.

“We donate eggs to the high school, and each week we send some to families who need extra food,” said Hennebaul. “We had beekeepers come to visit, and we gave them a dozen as a thank-you. During the summer, families signed up for a week to feed the chickens and collect eggs, and they got to keep whatever they harvested.”

This fall, Hennebaul plans to get the Archer engineering students back to design a composter, as soon as they finish designing a chicken coop for Harbins Elementary.

“This is a great way to show students who might come in not liking math that there is a way to apply what we’re talking about,” said Stoker. “Suddenly the light bulb goes off on why we’re learning this stuff.”

Information about Lovin Elementary is online at lovines.org; details about Archer High are at archer.archerhighschool.net.

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Each week we look at programs, projects and successful endeavors at area schools, from pre-K to grad school. To suggest a story that will appear in Sunday's print edition of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, contact H.M. Cauley at hm_cauley@yahoo.com or 770-744-3042.

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