Five chickens arrived at the Vancouver Waldorf School Thursday morning in North Vancouver.
The chickens of the amazing heritage breed, named Rosa, Cole, Laverne, Henley and Goldilocks, were featured in baskets covered in blankets – to keep stress levels low.
Then a quiet crowd of nine and ten-year-olds loaded their awkward burdens onto the back of their school – and released the hens into their new, sun-soaked pens that would be used for teaching and students’ stress relief.
It was the culmination of months of work during the pandemic that saw third graders build the structure and it became the first North Vancouver school approved to install a chicken coop on their schoolyard.
North Vancouver County introduced new bylaws in 2017 that allow backyard chickens to be raised in family yards. It wasn’t a program set up for schools, but this group convinced the district to let them try.
Autumn Faulkner, 9, said: “I’m really excited to own the chickens. I thought it would be a lot smaller. I hope I can help feed them and clean up their chicken poop and stuff.”
She said the pets in the new school yard are a welcome distraction after being trapped by COVID-19 restrictions for so long.
Chickens are more teachers than students.
“I think they can teach kids how to be calmer around other animals,” Faulkner said.
Horticulture teacher Chris Henley spearheaded the effort to be the first school to have a coop under the Chicken Backyard Program in North Vancouver. He admits he wasn’t sure it would fly.
“I was a little worried but somehow I felt like if I got the kids involved it would be a success,” Henley said. “It was my way of inducing guilt to the rest of the world for letting us do the project.”
Chicken was a heavy load
Students played a role in all aspects of planning how to use chickens to learn about animal care and to harvest their eggs for cooking within the school. They will ask neighbors to help take care of the barn when school is not in session.
There were countless challenges but Henley says the students rose to all of them.
“The logistics of taking a 10-year-old’s classroom in an unstructured fashion and doing a gardening project – and keeping them focused on a delicate task. This building project really captured the imagination and spirit of the kids to really come out and get working, rain or shine.”
With Henley’s guidance, the kids-powered team made creative landscape designs in the back corner of the schoolyard where a solar-powered electric fence was installed to keep out everything from raccoons and mice to bears.
“They must be a really determined bear to come here,” said Henley, checking into a barn called Henley’s Hen House, sandwiched between tall fences and tall trees on a little-used section of the school property.
Students have been building the barn since the beginning of 2021, hauling timber, cutting plaster of old chimney bricks for a bird lane and creating a retaining wall.
They even made sure that the hen house was equipped with a nice pile of logs to host the insects that birds love to snack on.
“As a teacher when you find something that works for the kids – the learning just happens,” Henley said. “That was the best part of it in my opinion.”
Waldorf School Principal Lorna Fortin says she was one of the first people to accept the idea, recalling the time she spent at the same school keeping rabbits in the yard.
“The kids have done an excellent job,” she said.
The students said there was something satisfying about watching chickens check out their new home, especially after they worked so hard to build it.
It’s really amazing – I was looking forward to it,” said Tayo Wright, 9.[The hens] She seemed a bit scared and nervous at first – but after a while they got used to it.”