Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Students at Eastside aren’t sure, but last year they decided to start with the egg. Back in the fall, the Green Teens wanted to do something different, something special. After some serious brainstorming, they decided to introduce students at Eastside to a new school mascot. Since a live panther was out of the question, students considered domestic animals they might raise on campus instead. Chickens made the final cut, both for their feasibility and their familiarity to teenagers.
The students knew that chickens require a lot of preparation. A steady supply of food and water was needed, along with a shelter to keep them safe from predators. Food and water were easily provided, but a home was going to be a bit more difficult. Mrs. Mortl-Walker, plant and soil science teacher at Eastside, and the Green Teens planned for weeks to organize a “Keep Eastside Beautiful” workday, where volunteers would help build a chicken coop where the birds could live. The workday was a huge success, and the dozens of volunteers who participated helped build a magnificent coop, as well as planted several gardens and trees throughout campus.
With the coop complete, the students obtained a dozen eggs in late January. These eggs were a mix of Buff Orpingtons and Rhode Island Whites. For 21 days, the eggs were carefully incubated while the students waited with bated breath to see how many would hatch. After a long three weeks, the kids heard the first sounds of peeping!
The chicks needed constant attention. The Green Teens took on daily chores and made sure that their electrolyte-loaded water was full, that they had enough to eat, and that their brooder box was clean. Though the chicks were messy and needy, they provided laughter and smiles in return. They were coddled and primped, held and hugged, and taken outside often to explore the wonders of the world. Despite constant and diligent care, one of the chicks died a week after being born of unknown causes. Though devastated, the Green Teens learned a valuable lesson about the fragility of life.
The remaining chicks have grown into happy, healthy adults. Three roosters- Jermaine, Hurricane and Junior- and three hens- Smalls, Taco, Edgar- make for a very even flock of chickens. Each has their own unique personality, from the lovingly social and bold Jermaine to the shy and nervous Taco. All of the students at Eastside adore them and they receive more love and attention than anyone thought possible. While they got along in the beginning, roosters often become un-neighborly with each other. With that in mind, the Green Teens found Jermaine and Junior a new home on a free-range homestead in Bastrop County.
The rest of the chickens aren’t just club pets; they provide learning opportunities for the entire student body. Students are in charge of maintaining the coop and the courtyard area in which the chickens live. They must engineer watering and feeding systems so that the chickens have what they need to survive. As time and the weather take their toll on the coop, they will be in charge of repairs. Now that the hens are beginning to lay, students and teachers will have access to fresh, hyper-local eggs, opening up the potential for more hands-on learning about life cycles, embryology, and animal behavior. The chickens are a part of a larger Keep Eastside Beautiful campaign spearheaded by Mrs. Mortl-Walker. Throughout the school year, students, faculty, and community volunteers will maintain food and native garden beds, build berm and swale systems to combat erosion and flooding issues, and engage the entire school community in sustainability education across subject areas.
The chickens have been keeping a good eye on Eastside Memorial High School over the summer, and our Green Teens interns have been keeping a good eye on them. With the school year just around the corner, Smalls, Taco, Edgar, Hurricane, and some new chicken friends are excited to welcome the students back.