This Valentine's Day, Spectrum Alternative Program got a very special gift that wasn't made of chocolate. Thanks to some grant writing and a lot of hard work by staff, the program's newest enrollees were four chickens. This makes Spectrum the first program and school in the district to take advantage of the city's new urban chicken policies. So far they are a big hit among students.
"They are the cutest little inks in the whole darn world," says Kristen Norris, a Grade 10 student at Spectrum. "One chicken lays blue eggs and green eggs and it is pretty magical."
The genesis of the Spectrum's urban agriculture "scene" started years ago with their school garden, which was started by District Youth and Family Worker Val Zwicker. The garden came about thanks to a grant from the BCTF social equity fund and has been supported by a number of other organizations including Whole Foods, the Vancouver Foundation and the Environmental Youth Alliance.
The coop was the final piece in the permaculture puzzle. Since the chickens came into the picture, the school has been supported by Duncan Martin, who has a great deal of experience in urban livestock like chickens.
So far the students say they've only named one hen (whose official name is Fat Joe). She got her name because she is "the biggest and most bossy hen".
Teacher Shirley Turner has taken the lead around developing curriculum connected to the academic year touching on a wide range of topics including the science behind the school's composters, chicken coop, additional beds. Lessons have helped students learn about urban agriculture and the environment. But teachers say one of the biggest benefits of having the chickens clucking around outside is that they teach the students about responsibility. Students agree.
"We are learning about responsibility with this project. We are learning how to feed them, take their eggs and build the coop. Since we are city kids, it's so great to learn about them," says Cheyene Papequash, a Grade 10 student at Spectrum. "Duncan has taught us everything."
Teachers say Martin isn't the only one that deserves credit for the chickens. They also credit Claire Broughton, who started as intern with the Environmental Youth Alliance and now works closely with the school. Staff also point to Kevin Hampson for his contributions to the Spectrum food program and his support with helping students and staff grow vegetables that they later used in their lunches. Finally, they credit Superintendent Steve Cardwell for his ongoing support saying that he was critical in moving the project forward.
Zwicker says the program plans to foster the chickens during the summer to neighbourhood families interested in taking them on.