With English being my specialist subject, it’s rare that we get onto the topic of poultry in the English classroom, aside from the hens’ protest in Animal Farm or perhaps Lennie’s dreams of an idyllic homestead in Of Mice and Men.
That aside, I’m well known amongst my pupils for my love of literature and of chickens – my poultry themed face masks for school soon give me away!
It turns out that my passion for the poultry hobby is shared with many of the students in Ballymena Academy – many of our pupils come from rural backgrounds themselves or keep chickens as pets.
It was in lockdown 2021 that I reconsidered the idea.
It was one I had toyed with before – a school hatch club that follows the journey from egg to chick, with the pupils being able to participate and observe the entire process.
I wondered if it was the right time. It was early February, I hadn’t begun setting myself – and with lockdown keeping us out of school and normal lessons, I wasn’t sure if the remote format would work for a club.
Teaching can be as much about taking risks as mitigating them though, and due to Covid restrictions our Year 8 pupils had yet to really taste the excitement and fun that extra-curricular activities could bring.
I knew from my time as a pupil that these clubs formed some of the most memorable moments of my academic career. It was worth the risk – I decided to give it a go.
I ordered 30 eggs from Johnston’s Hatchery, Mt Norris, who courteously delivered them and provided lots of information and support.
For the rest of the space left in the incubator, I added some eggs from my own pure breeds.
After putting together a short video to advertise the club, we had 38 pupils sign up for the first meet.
Dr Donnelly, Dr Pyper and Mrs Reid all signed up too, soon to be offering their support, engaging with and encouraging the pupils (and me!) every step of the way.
I suddenly found myself looking forward to Thursday afternoons, and the fantastic respite that the club meets offered from this period of often gruelling social isolation.
The contribution and enthusiasm of the pupils was second to none – each meet brought forth a myriad of questions, friendly competition, engaging discussion, anecdotes and more.
Over the course of the weekly meets we learned about the various stages of incubation, animal husbandry and the importance of conserving our pure breeds.
Each week saw the appearance of a ‘special guest’ of – you guessed it – the feathered variety. Most popular by far was Captain Tom, the white silkie cockerel, whose handsome looks, dark skin and turquoise ears inspired the intrigue and admiration of all.
Each meet was themed, with a curriculum-linked activity/competition – we wrote poetry using poultry and incubation terminology, participated in games, created beautiful art (which you will have seen in a previous issue of The Poultry Pen) and even participated in a challenging Chicken Maths quiz.
The pupils shared stories and pictures of their own poultry and even enjoyed a live stream of the incubator eggs hatching.
We welcomed our first chick on March 17, St Patrick’s Day, much to all our excitement. After a school community vote, we christened the chick Clover, with more than 400 votes being cast.
After completing the Hatch Club project, I am assured that our future as a society is in good hands.
Already with a challenging and charged school work schedule, and no doubt feeling the pressures of remote learning, these hard-working pupils dedicated so much of their time and energy into participating in the club, and produced some fantastic work to boot.
As for the future of our beloved hobby … I can say with utmost faith that some of our greatest and most passionate fanciers are still to come.
A huge well done to all the pupils who took part. We are all so proud.