Five chickens arrived at the Vancouver Waldorf School on Thursday morning in North Vancouver.
The striking heritage-breed hens, named Rosa, Coal, Laverne, Henley and Goldilocks, showed up in baskets covered by blankets — to keep their stress levels down.
Then a quiet rabble of nine- and ten-year-olds toted their awkward burdens to the back of their school — and set the hens free in their brand new, sun-dappled coop that will be used for teaching and de-stressing students.
It was the culmination of months of work during the pandemic which saw Grade 3 students build the structure and become the first North Vancouver school approved to install a chicken coop in their schoolyard.
The District of North Vancouver brought in new bylaws in 2017 allowing backyard hen-keeping in family yards. It wasn't a program set up for schools, but this group convinced the district to let them try.
"I'm just really excited to have the chickens. I thought they'd be a lot smaller. I hope I could help with feeding them and cleaning up their chicken poop and stuff," said Autumn Faulkner, 9.
She said the new school yard pets are a welcome distraction after being cooped up by COVID-19 restrictions for so long.
The hens are more teachers, than students.
"I think they can teach kids how to be more calm around other animals," said Faulkner.
Gardening teacher Chris Henley led the effort to be the first school with a coop under the district of North Vancouver's Backyard Chicken (Hen) Program. He admits he was not sure it would fly.
"I was a bit worried but I somehow just felt like if I got the kids involved it would be a go and be successful. It was my way of guilting the rest of the world into letting us do the project," said Henley.
Chickens were a heavy lift
The students played a part in all aspects of planning how to use the chickens to learn about animal care and harvest their eggs for in-school cooking. They'll ask neighbours to help care for the coop when the school is not in session.
There were endless challenges but Henley says the students rose to all of them.
"The logistics of taking a class of 10 year olds in an unstructured way and doing a gardening project — and keeping them focused on a delicate task. This building project really captured the imagination and the spirit of the children to come out and really get to work, rain or shine."
With Henley's guidance the child-powered team did creative landscaping in a back corner of the school lot where a solar-powered electric fence was installed to keep out everything from raccoons and rats to bears.
"They'd have to be a really determined bear to come in here," said Henley, surveying the coop named Henley's Hen House, sandwiched between tall fences and towering trees in a little used section of the school property.
Students have been building the coop since the beginning of 2021, hauling lumber, chipping grout off old chimney bricks for the bird's walkway and creating a retaining wall.
They even made sure the hen house was equipped with a nice stack of logs to host bugs the birds like to snack on.
"As a teacher when you find something that works for the children — the learning all just happens. That's been the best part of it from my perspective," said Henley.
Waldorf school principal Lorna Fortin says she was one of the first people to approve the idea, recalling her own time at the same school that used to keep rabbits in the yard.
"The children have done excellent work," she said.
The students said there was something satisfying about watching chickens check out their new home, especially after they worked hard to build it.
"It's pretty amazing — I was looking forward to it," said Taeo Wright, 9. "[The hens] looked kind of scared and nervous at first — but after a while they got used to it."