The in­valu­able role an­i­mals play in ed­u­cat­ing the stu­dents

Monthly Chronicle - - Front Page - Jenny Bar­lass

Theirs were the only Dor­per sheep friendly enough to wel­come con­stant pet­ting by Royal Easter Show vis­i­tors. All the other Dor­pers were...sheep­ish. Such is the level of care and at­ten­tion lav­ished on the an­i­mals by the 450 stu­dents at Arcadia’s Northholm Gram­mar School - where the an­i­mals are mak­ing a huge dif­fer­ence to the ed­u­ca­tion and well-be­ing of stu­dents.

It could be said the rab­bits, worms, guinea pigs, stick in­sects, docile cows and friendly sheep are do­ing as much for the ed­u­ca­tion of the Kindy to Year 12 stu­dents as the high-tech teach­ing re­sources.

Set down a long, quiet road and sur­rounded by fields, this truly bu­colic place starts off the calm­ing feel­ing that the an­i­mals man­age to fin­ish off. The non-se­lec­tive fee-pay­ing 34 year-old coed school runs on a not-for-profit ba­sis, with most of the pupils drawn from the sur­round­ing sub­urbs where farms and agri­cul­ture fea­ture promi­nently.

Other ex­am­ples of bonds be­tween stu­dent and an­i­mal in the class­rooms and the school’s own work­ing farm in­clude the fact that ev­ery Ju­nior School class­room has its own an­i­mal to look af­ter.

In the Year 6 class­room, there are two bun­nies which have called this room home for 18 months, one pro­duc­ing seven ba­bies the pre­vi­ous week.

“This gives the kids the chance to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for look­ing af­ter a liv­ing crea­ture,” says Ja­son Mil­ner who teaches a class of 17 Year 6 stu­dents. “So from Year 6 the an­i­mals are in­cor­po­rated into the cur­ricu­lum.

“We’ve cre­ated a busi­ness the kids op­er­ate called Feather and Fur where the stu­dents de­velop fi­nan­cial plans, tak­ing into ac­count the costs of look­ing af­ter th­ese an­i­mals, and de­cid­ing how they can gen­er­ate in­come.

“They do this by sell­ing baby rab­bits and chick­ens as well as eggs to the school can­teen.The chil­dren also take the chick­ens to agri­cul­ture shows where they’ve won firsts and sec­onds.

“And now our Ju­nior School Ag cap­tain wants to be­come a vet­eri­nar­ian.”

There are also four goats, five ducks and the same number of Gal­loway cows and sheep, clock­ing up a weekly feed bill of $500.

“The an­i­mals have helped so many stu­dents come out of their shells and be­come more out­go­ing,” said the School’s Mar­ket­ing Man­ager Su­san Wright. “Of­ten when new stu­dents start they can be shy and find it hard to make new friends. Join­ing an Ag Club and look­ing af­ter an­i­mals gives them some­thing to talk about. The an­i­mal’s the com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor.”

Out in the yard kids in Years 4,5 and 6 are wash­ing, groom­ing and feed­ing over 30 chick­ens which roam around by day be­tween lush gar­den beds pro­duc­ing corn, pump­kin, let­tuce and cit­rus - again part of the cur­ricu­lum - and meet­ing around 40% of the school can­teen’s needs.

“An­i­mals are the com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor”

A five minute walk across the 25 acre site through leafy lanes, the Year 11 Agri­cul­ture and Pri­mary In­dus­tries stu­dents are busy with cows and goats.

To­day’s les­son un­der bright blue skies in­cludes trac­tor-driv­ing for Year 11 lad Daniel Yin, part of the Cert II Ag course, while three girls treat a goat with an in­flamed foot. Mean­while four other fe­male stu­dents and an­other boy are feed­ing Gal­loway cows with fresh hay and check­ing water troughs.

Stel­lina Tre­strail, Agri­cul­ture and Pri­mary In­dus­tries Co­or­di­na­tor, says that de­spite the close bonds the kids make with the an­i­mals, the re­al­i­ties of farm­ing and the jour­ney from farm gate to ta­ble, are vi­tal to their ed­u­ca­tion.

“We’re reg­is­tered Gal­loway cow breed­ers and Dor­per sheep breed­ers,” ex­plains Stel­lina. “The chil­dren take them to shows and learn about blood­lines and how to im­prove the breed, so they know about the whole busi­ness side. This year we made $3,000 from the steers in the Hawkes­bury Agri­cul­tural Show.

“The suc­cess at this year’s shows tell us that our breed­ing pro­grams are suc­cess­ful and that we’re pro­duc­ing live­stock that is ‘true to type’, so it’s the best rep­re­sen­ta­tion of that breed.

“Shows al­low stu­dents the op­por­tu­nity to con­nect with in­dus­try and show­case their work at school. About 90% of our Ag and Pri­mary In­dus­tries stu­dents go on to pur­sue agri­cul­tural ca­reers.”

Stu­dents learn about an­i­mal health and wel­fare, equip­ment prepa­ra­tion and team­work, leav­ing school with a Cert II qual­i­fi­ca­tion. “I’ve seen so many stu­dents grow in con­fi­dence through work­ing with the live­stock which then ex­tends into their per­for­mance in the class­room. In our Ag clubs, we’re of­ten a mixed bag of per­son­al­ity types and pro­files but by the end of the show sea­son we’re a fam­ily.”

What hap­pens to the an­i­mals in school hol­i­days? Year 11 stu­dent Zahra Mfula says: “We build-up a re­la­tion­ship with the an­i­mals so we wouldn’t for­get about them at week­ends or hol­i­days - we come in and feed and groom them dur­ing those times. One friend took a baby goat home for the hol­i­days as it needed round the clock care.”

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing, Indiana Palmer has a pas­sion to breed horses.“I’ve wanted to do this all my life and this school has been amaz­ing in giv­ing me the first steps in an Ag career,” she smiles. “My goal is to work on a sta­tion in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory.”

Per­haps the fi­nal word ought to go to Year 6 lad Mar­cus John­son, seen here cud­dling a Silky, who com­ments, per­haps wise for his years: “All the an­i­mals are great to work with - we learn how to wash and feed them.

“But hav­ing an an­i­mal friend is also re­ally calm­ing. If your heart rate is high and you play with an an­i­mal, you feel it slow down. An­i­mals have the power to re­lax you.”

A les­son for other ed­u­ca­tors - per­haps ev­ery school should have its own menagerie of feath­ered and furry friends.

Year 11 teth­er­ing sheep Nathan Black­ett, Indiana Palmer and Mad­di­son Nel­son work with the Gal­loways

Bathing a goat’s in­fected hoof

Mon­tana Napoli and Mil­lie Macdon­ald with their fluffy charges Shadow and Wil­low

Ryan Bax­ter, Mar­cus John­son with a Silky and Ma­son Lowe

Northholm Dor­per Show Team at the 2017 Easter Show

Zahra Mfula with 3 week-old Daisy the lamb, Courtney Cameron with Timmy and Laura John­son with Gor­don

Stel­lina Tre­strail, Head of Agri­cul­ture

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