Ducklings could open doors to future careers for students
“We’ve had them since they were babies,” Kiah said as Moby Duck friends Duke and Ocho waddled around the room.
Kiah reads to the ducklings every day. She said their favorite book is “Duck On a Bike” by author David Shannon.
Eight-year-old Ella Trdlickova said it was soothing to come to school and spend time with the ducklings.
“They’re so cute and playful,” sophomore Ella said on her last full day with her fluffy friends.
Moby Duck, Ocho and Duke have moved to their new permanent home on a farm owned by Winchester Public Schools Grants Specialist Jennifer LaBombard-Daniels, who oversees the grant-funded STEM program at both Quarles and the University. John Kerr Elementary School.
“What we’re doing with our kids is immersing them in STEM fields and computer science,” LaBombard-Daniels said.
How do baby ducks help children learn about computers? By teaching them modern farming techniques that involve robotics, automation, coding and more, LaBombard-Daniels said.
Thanks to the Virginia Department of Education and the National Inventors Hall of Fame, Winchester Public Schools recently received a “Farm to Family” kit that included devices and information to show students at Quarles and John Kerr Elementary Schools. how modern agriculture is embracing technology to reduce workloads. and produce better food.
One of the devices in the kit was a miniature John Deere tractor that the students programmed to move automatically around a classroom.
“They created a farm and made some trails, and then we coded the tractor to go through the farm,” said Quarles computer coach Jenny Ramsey. “We want to show them how much IT is present in all sectors.”
The project with the ducklings began even before they hatched. LaBombard-Daniels said incubators were used to develop the eggs, allowing students to follow the growth of the ducklings while they were still in their shells. The incubation process also taught second graders how farmers need to limit the number of eggs they hatch in order to control their poultry populations.
Once hatched, the ducklings stayed with Quarles and John Kerr so the students had an immersive experience while learning how to properly care for them. That experience could be pivotal later in life, LaBombard-Daniels said, when children decide what they want to do in life.
“When we surveyed third and fourth graders last year,” she said, “veterinary science was the number one STEM field they chose. I really attribute that to these projects because they have hands-on experiences.
Besides the educational aspect, Ramsey said the ducklings provide other benefits for students.
“Sometimes they have a rough morning or struggle in class, so a lot of these ducks end up turning into therapy ducks,” she said. “Students come to the counseling corner, they sit and hold the ducks, they read to them, put their feelings into action and go back to class. Not only do they learn how to raise a duck and understand the life cycle of an animal they may not see in town, but they also learn empathy, compassion and generosity.
It’s not just children who enjoy spending time with ducklings. On March 31, LaBombard-Daniels brought in five more ducklings which caught the attention of every Quarles teacher who passed in the hallway.
“It’s therapy, something different in the building than math and reading,” said Heather Williams, Quarles’ instructional coach.
The five ducklings brought are raised on the LaBombard-Daniels farm. In order for her to take the animals to Quarles, she also had to bring a Silkie hen who became their de facto mother after a batch of hen eggs she was laying failed to hatch. Since the Silkie couldn’t have babies herself, she turned to the ducklings and the ducklings immediately bonded with her. The unusual brood is now inseparable, so the ducklings wouldn’t leave the farm with LaBombard-Daniels unless their mother leaves as well.
The duckling project recently ended at John Kerr and Quarles when LaBombard-Daniels moved the three ducklings from Hobson’s class to his farm. LaBombard-Daniels said the ducks will live their natural lives there and will not be used for meat, but the eggs laid by the females will be collected and enjoyed.
“She’ll send us updates of pictures and we’ll send them to the kids,” Williams said.
John Kerr’s IT coach, Amy Thomas, said students at her school held up pretty well when it came to saying goodbye to their ducklings.
“They know the ducks need to be in a more comfortable space for them,” Thomas said. “And it starts to smell a bit after a while.”