October 28, 2020

Teacher uses chicken coop to teach 5th graders life skills

Children at Overstreet Elementary School have a coop of new responsibilities outside the school.

VIVA Fifth Grade Art Teacher Niki Mulrooney proposed the idea of a chicken coop to the Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District Board of Trustees, to marry chickens with standards upheld by the Mississippi Department of Education.

Their flock of five starting out includes various bantam breeds — Polish, silkie, cochin and frizzle — and a regular-sized hen for comparison. She’s a black-laced silver Wyandotte.

“I wanted multiple breeds of chickens so they could see how they’re all unique in their own way. They may look different, they have different characteristics but they can all co-exist and they all, in the end, look out for one another and function as a flock,” Mulrooney said.

“Just because they look different doesn’t mean that someone is less important or less valued,” she added.

The chicken coop is expected to teach the fifth grade students life lessons in many aspects. One of the values Mulrooney hopes it will teach them is empathy. Her own four sons gained empathy at home from their backyard chickens. Overstreet principal Cynthia Milons and Mulrooney agree it’s an experience you can’t buy or teach.

Another valuable lesson students can get out of that is gaining confidence to speak up for those who may not be able to.

Students are assigned mornings with a checklist of what to scope when tending to the chickens. Looking at their food and water quantities, whether the coop needs cleaning and if they’re in good health or look ill will be reported back to the teacher.

“I want not only my children, but students at the school to gain these important life skills so they, too, grow to become kind citizens who speak up for what is right and respect all aspects of life,” she added.

Overstreet hopes other teachers want to bring the experience to their schools, and that people who know about chickens will be interested in joining the project.