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Lynn Valley students are all aflutter building a coop for animal therapy chickens

Grade 3s at Waldorf School have been working on henhouse project since February

Elementary students are known to wrestle with math problems, book reports and, occasionally, even chicken wire.

At least, that’s the case at one Lynn Valley school.

During a recent visit to Waldorf School’s elementary campus off St. Christophers Road, a pair of Grade 3s cluck with joy and enthusiasm as they show off the henhouse their class has diligently put together since February.

Like a seasoned pro who has worked on a farm all her life, seven-year-old Briar calls out to gardening teacher Chris Henley, who is overseeing the project, as he chats with a reporter who knows next to nothing about keeping backyard chickens.

“Mr. Henley, we’re out of wire,” exclaims Briar. Her teacher points out there’s more located just inside the coop. She sticks her head inside.

“Ah, I see it!” she remarks. She and her classmate Quinten get back to work on stitching the wire that will encompass part of the coop, located on a small patch of land at the back of the school.

Playing chicken

Since the beginning of the year, the Grade 3 class has been flapping away working on a new gardening and construction project as part of their school’s curriculum with the goal being to land some chickens in the coop in the next little while.

“Animal husbandry and animal therapy was something that a couple of the teachers have been having training on,” says Henley. “We’ve been trying to spend more time outside and we wanted to help mitigate anxiety because of not knowing what COVID was like when schools were first closing last year.”

Work’s not quite done yet, but they’re almost there.

Later in the day, students will be helping install the ramp that’ll lead up to the coop. And after that, the final phase will be installing an electric fence around the structure, as per the rules of the District of North Vancouver’s backyard chicken program introduced in 2017.

The electric fence will be used to protect the chicks from raccoons, birds of prey and even possibly bears and cougars.

When the school gets its chickens, it’ll be the first in the municipality to take advantage of the backyard chicken program, adds Henley, who says the district still needs to approve the project before the henhouse chickens can take up residence.   

“I’m definitely excited about the chickens coming,” says Brier, who says building the coop has been great fun. “It’s a good skill to learn.”

Backyard chickens to come home to roost

The project’s been multi-faceted. At the outset, students, teachers, and volunteers got their hands dirty levelling and building a retaining wall in the small slice of land where the coop was to be erected.

Students helped dig holes to put up fence posts, have stitched together the wire enclosure, and have had a hand at every point of building the coop itself, rain or shine.

“I loved putting the roof on,” notes Quinten, who says his class helped carry the roof with the assistance of the Grade 2s recently. “It was fun getting everyone involved.”

The Vancouver Waldorf School has campuses in Lynn Valley and Edgemont Village. The schools are part of an international educational institution that’s more than 100 years old, with a philosophy that emphasizes creative play, artistic expression and analytic thinking, among other facets.

When the chickens come, students will be able to help collect eggs, and Henley said he was most excited to be able to use the manure produced from the chickens for the school’s extensive garden, which includes pollinator species and many native plants that have been reintroduced.

“We’re really trying to show children how things are the way they are and how people do the things that we need to do,” he says, noting the project has been exceptionally well-received by the students, who have enjoyed every step of building the coop and are raring for the chickens themselves to come home to roost. “It’s amazing to see them get so interested and excited. With the chicken project, every single student has been amazingly enthusiastic. They always have questions.”

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