Students at Central Middle School are ruffling feathers — literally.
For the last few months, Grade 8 students Will Guarasci, Jasper St. John and Avery Berg have been taking care of three hens.
The trio have been raising the hens, giving them water and food, and letting them out of the coop to wander a carefully fenced off section of grass at the back of the middle school off Fort Street.
They take turns travelling back to the school twice a day on weekends to let the chickens out and put them back in the coop at the end of the day.
“We want there to be more chickens in the future,” said 13-year-old Guarasci.
The coop is part of the projet des choix (program of choice) class for Grade 8 French immersion students. There are three classes each with different themes.
The class they chose was physics, philosophy and food. For the food portion of the class, Guarasci wanted to focus on bringing the livestock culture to teach fellow students about sustainable ways of living and where food comes from.
Guarasci, who is a member of the 4H club, received 10 chicks when they were three days old. He raised them for three weeks in a brooder (a large storage bin with a heat lamp) in his house, before the hens grew enough feathers to withstand the climate.
Shortly after spring break (and hatching a plan to build an eight foot by four foot chicken coop from wood), they brought the hens, Big Bird, Rosetta and an unnamed bird, which are roughly two to three pounds each, to the school — much to the delight of other students from all different grades.
“The students love coming out and seeing the chickens,” said 14-year-old St. John.
“It’s just the fact that people don’t see them that often. If we just had a cat, it wouldn’t be as interesting. It’s really cool for the students to see the chickens and feed them.”
But the project hasn’t been without challenges, specifically other wildlife.
The team said at the beginning they had a problem with racoons getting into the coop and eatingseven of the 10 hens within a few days.
Now, they’ve added a fence to keep out predators.
“I really like the set up of it, building the chicken coop and putting in the pegs,” said Berg, adding taking care of the chicks has been a similar experience to babysitting a dog.
“In general, finally getting to see our product finished with the chickens inside, there’s a sense of relief.”
At the end of the school year, the hens will be taken to a farmer in west Saanich, who will use them to lay eggs.
Allison Balabuch, a Grade 8 French immersion teacher, said the project allows students to come up with an idea, figure out the logistics and follow it through.
“Because they got to build it, they’ve been able to see exactly what needs to be changed and it’s much more motivating when you’re protecting your chickens rather than drawing them on a page,” she said.
“If you grow up in the city, a lot of kids don’t get to see a chicken walking around.”
Berg, St. John and Guarasci hope the chicken coop project will continue in the future as well.
Other projet des choix projects have included the meal that students made for residents at My Place Transitional Shelter across the street and writing a french play and putting it on with the help of Langham Court Theatre.