Jennifer Hancock, a third-grade teacher at Mayfield City Schools east of Cleveland talked with Dale Minyo about ChickQuest.

From the farm to the classroom (and back to the farm)

By Matt Reese and Dale Minyo

While students are the main focus of the project, a batch of hatching chicks in a third-grade classroom has captured the attention of many in Mayfield City Schools east of Cleveland in Cuyahoga County.

“When you tell an eight-year-old they’re going to hatch chickens, it really goes without saying they are excited. One of the perks of being an elementary school teacher is that the students love school and they want to do it. Every day they want to learn something new,” said Jennifer Hancock, a third-grade teacher at the school. “I livestream the eggs while they’re in the incubator and then after the chicks have hatched so that everyone can see. The whole school and the whole community get to watch. It’s a big thing. Kids that aren’t even in my class are asking to come see the chicks. Even the principal came in to see them. It’s been the highlight of the year.”

The students in Hancock’s classroom wrapped up the school year in a big way by completing the ChickQuest program from GrowNextGen, a program funded by Ohio soybean farmers and their checkoff, by incubating eggs and hatching eight chicks.

“I attended the GrowNextGen class, got trained and got all the equipment that they provided us for free. They give you an incubator, an egg turner and then they gave us a starter supply of chicken food and the coupon to get the first round of eggs. The first time we did it was free. I think it was around $400 worth of stuff and this is the third year I’ve used it,” Hancock said. “Kids now don’t get to see this kind of stuff that helps them understand science and the world around them. Especially since COVID, you know, kids didn’t get to the farm and didn’t get to go out and see that stuff, so we bring it here. One boy said, ‘I’ve never held a live animal.’ How do you make it until eight or nine years old and you’ve never held a live animal? We take things like that for granted, but some of these kids don’t have that experience.”

To date, more than 1,500 elementary and middle school teachers have been trained and equipped to implement ChickQuest in their classrooms. Over 100,000 students have gone through the program with the cooperation of Ohio State University Extension and the Meyer Hatchery. The program teaches Next Generation Science Standards for third- and fourth-grade students.

“Our science standards are about life cycles and learning about animals, so this is the perfect tie-in because we’re talking about how animals reproduce and how it works. We look at pictures in the fall and then in the spring we hatch these eggs. The students just are mesmerized at what we talked about and that they get to see it in real life and experience it. They just learned so much and now when they go to the grocery store, they know what those eggs are and what they’re eating,” Hancock said.

The program’s cute elements invite students to explore the meaningful science behind natural phenomena and engineering processes, which proves equally fun.

“We talked about the parts of the egg, how the incubator works and how that’s mimicking what the mom would be doing. We have geese on the roof of the school doing the same thing, so we were watching it literally happen with wild animals outside while there are eggs in the incubator,” Hancock said. “The kids look at a poster every day to see what is going on and then we candle the eggs to show them what’s happening. When they actually see that chick move inside the egg, you would think they won a million dollars.”

The 21-day project culminated with the hatching of the chicks.

“We had one chicken that hatched early because we had the world’s smallest chicken breed, the Serama. It’s going to be a size can of Coke. It hatched 2 days early on a Sunday, so they got to watch that hatch online. They watched it for a couple of days and then we took it out once the other ones hatched,” she said.

As the school year wrapped up, the students said their goodbyes, and the chicks went to a local farm to live out their careers as egg layers.

“The kids love to share about what they’ve learned. They know the chicks are going to a good place after this and going to have a good life and that they’ll get updates. That’s probably their favorite part. The lady that takes the chicks sends videos and I’ll message them over the summer so they’ll get to see the chicks as they grow up from their cute little fuzzy stage,” Hancock said. “The first chick was named Amelia Eggheart and the students named the rest and wrote notes to the lady that is taking them. I take pictures with them holding their chicks so they’ll have that memory and can take that home with them. Every job has its hard parts, but seeing how excited the kids are, that’s what makes this a good job. Those are the things that are important. Then, someday hopefully they grow to be an old lady or old man who will remember learning about eggs in school and maybe they’ll teach their grandkids about chickens.”

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