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Lake Placid Elementary students greeted by a chicken coop

September 6, 2016
By ANTONIO OLIVERO - Staff Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - When Lake Placid Elementary School students broke for recess in the school's backyard on the first day of school Tuesday, Sept. 6, five familiar faces greeted them from inside their new home, what Principal Sonja Franklin dubbed "the Taj Mahal of chicken coops."

Their names are Ashley, Willie, Simba, Gloria and Sonja, and after two months away from school, students will greet their clan again. Third-grade students hatched the chickens last spring.

Thanks to foresight and the collaborative effort of teachers, administration and the school grounds crew, the chickens are here to stay behind the school, in a brand-new coop built 25 years since the last time chickens were cooped on campus.

Article Photos

Five chickens named Ashley, Willie, Simba, Gloria and Sonja live in a newly built chicken coop on the grounds of Lake Placid Elementary School.
(News photo — Antonio Olivero)

"I see this as just another way for kids to be excited to come to school every day," third-grade teacher Patricia Damp said. "It's not just about a book; it's so much more."

Damp is one of the key members of the team who helped to bring the chickens and the coop to the school, which Franklin said students in every grade level will have the opportunity to experience. For the past four school years, Damp has hatched the eggs of elementary school speech pathologist Vicky Kershner's chickens in her third-grade classroom. They hatched in the spring, and then, in the past, people adopted the chickens.

But last year was different as Franklin, who has chickens of her own at home, was on board to approach district Superintendent Roger Catania about keeping them in the school.

So students wrote persuasive letters to Catania as part of a project at the end of last year, an element of the process Damp said speaks to how the chicken coop enables students with more ownership in the classroom.

"In that 25-year time span, the idea has evolved," kindergarten teacher Cindy Baird said. "There is this new farm-to-table movement.

"There's this feeling of being an ambassador and teaching them about the coop relative to school," she added, "to share their knowledge and their safety about the coop with other kids in the community. It gives it a whole new dimension when you have a real hen there, or an Easter egg story."

While Damp kept the chickens at her house over the summer, Catania leafed through the letters before giving the project a thumbs-up. That's when Franklin approached the school's grounds crew, led by Bill Begor and including Dave Mayberry, Royce Lawrence and Tina Stubbs.

The end result is impressive. Ashley, Willie, Simba, Gloria and Sonja will have the run of a state-of-the-art roost. Located centrally in the backyard just yards from the rear of the school, the coop features a red-painted barn structure and a grazing area for the chickens on the outside.

Inside of the roost's 6-foot door or much smaller ramp and door for the chickens on the other side, chickens will be able to roost in the heated rafters of the structure. Windows provide light, vents provide air, a lamp provides heat and a pulley system provides in and out access to five nesting boxes. Franklin said, though, that some of the chickens prefer to share their boxes.

The coop is open to the public, and last week two young brothers from New York City, Jack and Luke Rosenthal, stopped and stared at the coop for about a half an hour. LPES students will have access to class benches outside of the coop. Franklin said lessons will revolve around critical thinking, with the school's special education class included as well.

Classes will also adopt coop responsibilities by the week, and parents and families will sign up to take care of the chickens over weekends and holidays.

"We'll talk about life cycles, connecting it again with the farm to school nutrition - you can just go on and on," Damp said. "Compassion, kindness, service - not every kid has a pet at home, so this kind of gives them a little feel for taking care of something else."

The coop will have an unofficial opening celebration on Sept. 14 in the afternoon when Tractor Supply staff members will speak to students about the importance of chickens and how students can be good ambassadors of chickens in the Lake Placid community.

The coop will also enable the school to connect with the high school on senior projects and to start a Lake Placid chapter of the 4-H (Head, Heart, Hands and Health) Club, something Franklin and Damp were apart of as children.

The teachers, it seems, are enjoying going back to school greeted by their five fowl friends as much as the students.

"It exceeded our expectations," Franklin said. "The best part is kids get to learn about everything from egg to egg."



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