How animals are helping educate these Arcadia students
Theirs were the only Dorper sheep friendly enough to welcome constant petting by Royal Easter Show visitors.
All the other Dorpers were…sheepish.
Such is the level of care and attention lavished on the animals by the 450 students at Arcadia’s Northholm Grammar School – where the animals are making a huge difference to the education and well-being of students.
It could be said the rabbits, worms, guinea pigs, stick insects, docile cows and friendly sheep are doing as much for the education of the Kindy to Year 12 students as the high-tech teaching resources.
Set down a long, quiet road and surrounded by fields, this truly bucolic place starts off the calming feeling that the animals manage to finish off. The non-selective fee-paying 34 year-old co-ed school runs on a not-for-profit basis, with most of the pupils drawn from the surrounding suburbs where farms and agriculture feature prominently.
Other examples of bonds between student and animal in the classrooms and the school’s own working farm include the fact that every Junior School classroom has its own animal to look after.
In the Year 6 classroom, there are two bunnies which have called this room home for 18 months, one producing seven babies the previous week.
“This gives the kids the chance to take responsibility for looking after a living creature,” says Jason Milner who teaches a class of 17 Year 6 students. “So from Year 6 the animals are incorporated into the curriculum.
“We’ve created a business the kids operate called Feather and Fur where the students develop financial plans, taking into account the costs of looking after these animals, and deciding how they can generate income.
“They do this by selling baby rabbits and chickens as well as eggs to the school canteen.The children also take the chickens to agriculture shows where they’ve won firsts and seconds.
“And now our Junior School Ag captain wants to become a veterinarian.”
There are also four goats, five ducks and the same number of Galloway cows and sheep, clocking up a weekly feed bill of $500.
“The animals have helped so many students come out of their shells and become more outgoing,” said the School’s Marketing Manager Susan Wright. “Often when new students start they can be shy and find it hard to make new friends. Joining an Ag Club and looking after animals gives them something to talk about. The animal’s the common denominator.”
Out in the yard kids in Years 4,5 and 6 are washing, grooming and feeding over 30 chickens which roam around by day between lush garden beds producing corn, pumpkin, lettuce, and citrus – again part of the curriculum – and meeting around 40% of the school canteen’s needs.
A five minute walk across the 25 acre site through leafy lanes, the Year 11 Agriculture and Primary Industries students are busy with cows and goats.
Today’s lesson under bright blue skies includes tractor-driving for Year 11 lad Daniel Yin, part of the Cert II Ag course, while three girls treat a goat with an inflamed foot. Meanwhile four girls and another boy are feeding Galloway cows with fresh hay and checking water troughs.
Stellina Trestrail, Agriculture and Primary Industries Coordinator, says that despite the close bonds the kids make with the animals, the realities of farming and the journey from farm gate to table, are vital to their education.
“We’re registered Galloway cow breeders and Dorper sheep breeders, “ explains Stellina. “The children take them to shows and learn about bloodlines and how to improve the breed, so they know about the whole business side. This year we made $3,000 from the steers in the Hawkesbury Agricultural Show.
“The success at this year’s shows tell us that our breeding programs are successful and that we’re producing livestock that is ‘true to type’, so it’s the best representation of that breed.
“Shows allow students the opportunity to connect with industry and showcase their work at school. About 90% of our Ag and Primary Industries students go on to pursue agricultural careers.”
Students learn about animal health and welfare, equipment preparation and teamwork, leaving school with a Cert II qualification. ‘I’ve seen so many students grow in confidence through working with the livestock which then extends into their performance in the classroom. In our Ag clubs, we’re often a mixed bag of personality types and profiles but by the end of the show season we’re a family.”
What happens to the animals in school holidays? Year 11 student Zahra Mfula says: “We build-up a relationship with the animals so we wouldn’t forget about them at weekends or holidays – we come in and feed and groom them during those times. One friend took a baby goat home for the holidays as it needed round the clock care.”
After graduating, Indiana Palmer has a passion to breed horses.“I’ve wanted to do this all my life and this school has been amazing in giving me the first steps in an Ag career,” she smiles. “My goal is to work on a station in the Northern Territory.”
Perhaps the final word ought to go to Year 6 lad Marcus Johnson, seen here cuddling a Silky, who comments, perhaps wise for his years: “All the animals are great to work with – we learn how to wash and feed them.
“But having an animal friend is also really calming. If your heart rate is high and you play with an animal, you feel it slow down. Animals have the power to relax you.”
A lesson for other educators – perhaps every school should have its own menagerie of feathered and furry friends.
Northholm Grammar School
79 Cobar Rd, Fiddletown
Co-ed, non-selective fee-paying
Set in 25 acres of farmland, with cows, sheep, goats & chickens
Caters for Kindy to Year 12