By Anthony Rimel

Corvallis Gazette-Times

CORVALLIS — Early in College Hill High School teacher Cherie Taylor’s horticulture class, she went to her car to retrieve the 11 half-grown chickens she had brought for students to care for during the class, only to find that the chickens had broken free from the cardboard box in which she transported them.

Further, the escaped chickens had made a prodigious mess on the outside of their box and in the car, so instead of having one student carry the box as she planned, Taylor had her students each individually carry the chickens to the school’s fenced garden area.

So lesson one for Tuesday: Chickens — bad for cars, but good for gardens.

Taylor’s horticulture class has been caring for the chickens since the start of the school year, when they were just 3 days old. Taylor said introducing the chickens is part of the course’s rotating topics, which allow students to take the school’s only science class over multiple years and not have to repeat content. In past years they’ve studied mycorrhizal fungi and bees.

Taylor said lessons with the chickens for the horticulture class, which has become so popular that this year she had to add a second section, have included how to care for the chickens and the benefits chickens have on a garden, such as fertilization and pest control. Her construction math class, new this year at the school, is also building prototype coops that are designed to fit over the garden’s raised beds, so the chickens can be rotated between the beds, although right now Taylor keeps them at her house when they are not attending class. The construction math class is trying to get to a point where it can sell coops as a fundraiser.

Taylor said hands-on activities, like raising chickens, are more engaging to students.

“I could lecture from a textbook and kids would be looking at the clock,” she said.

But in horticulture, students like Isaac Smartt said they enjoy the class so much that they come in during their free time to work on the garden.

Smartt, a senior at the alternative school, said he saw what other students were doing in the class last year so he wanted to join it.

“I’ve learned way more with hands-on (lessons) than I have with books,” he said.

Smartt, who is also in the construction math class and has worked outside of class on building a coop for the chickens, said he helps out with his dad’s garden at home and he’d like to get his own chickens.

“It’s been great because I’ve watched these chickens grow since they could fit in my hand. Now I’m building them a home. It feels good,” he said.

Ethan Sauret, a junior in his second year in horticulture classes, said having the chickens added new depth to the class. During Tuesday’s class he spent his time looking after the chickens as they wandered the garden. He paid particular attention to what they were eating, so that the students can understand how to feed them as they transition off chicken feed.

“A lot of people would learn better if there were more classes like this in school. It lets you see how things work,” he said.

Cindy Preece, an administrative assistant at the school, recalled taking photos of the first days of class, when students were caring for the chicks.

“What I saw happening was this utter calm come over the room,” she said of the chicks coming into the class for the first time. She said the students were excited and engaged as they cared for the chickens.

“It was this incredible experience of watching kids blossom and feel confident right before my eyes,” she said.