Nurturing nature and farming at Kerns school

KERNS - Kerns Public School, situated in the heart of Temiskaming farm country, is making the most of its connection to nature and to farming.

Teacher Joanne Goddard teaches Grades 4, 5, and 6 and has been with the school for ten years. She is also a member of the Hilliardton Marsh Research and Education Centre, where bird banding and research is carried out.

Recently she was at Riverside Farmers Market with a group of her students who were fundraising for projects, selling items such as Halloween goody bags and tulip bulbs for fall planting.

When she arrived at the school in 2012, she had just returned from an Ontario bird-banding conference where she heard worries being discussed about the decline of the snow bunting.

The school's location off Highway 65 West in Kerns Township is surrounded by farmers' fields, and it was an ideal place for snow bunting banding, said Goddard. She formed the Kerns Public School of Flock with student activities revolving around banding.

Over time School of Flock expanded to include hummingbird banding, and chickadee colour banding to help identify the populations and lifespans of the chickadees coming to the schoolyard.

The students also learned that the tree swallows are in decline, and they became involved in building tree swallow boxes and placing them along area highways as well as in the schoolyard.

Goddard explained that tree swallows are aerial insectivores and are dependent on the area's insect populations. Farming practices and a lack of habitat are affecting the insect populations, she explained.

Because most of the students at Kerns Public School are from farming families, the School of Flock began their own farming activities at the school and now have seven small gardens, the greatest of which is a pumpkin patch, said Goddard. A chicken coop has also been added.

"We have our own eggs and we do our own breakfast at the school," she said.

"A lot of these kids are farmers themselves so they bring a lot of knowledge. I didn't grow up as a farmer so they taught me a lot over the years."

She said of the School of Flock that "we're lucky we are in the country and we have lots of space and the opportunity."

The connection with the Hilliardton Marsh Research and Education Centre has resulted in many of Goddard's students moving on to become Stewardship Rangers at the marsh, carrying out conservation work over the summer, she said.

Through the school board, there are often opportunities to put in proposals for funding for different projects, but the students do most of the fundraising themselves, she continued.

Support for School of Flock also comes through the Kerns Public School community, with many people who attended the school as children.

"It is a community that is unique and close," she said.

Growing gardens and raising chickens at school "really came out of being part of the Kerns community. These are things that Kerns does well already."

Darlene Wroe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Temiskaming Speaker