More than half of the elementary schools throughout Douglas County have a community garden tended by students and staff. Only one boasts a chicken coop.
Constructed this summer at Heritage Elementary School in Highlands Ranch as part of two Eagle Scout projects, the coop and accompanying run — built from recycled material and discount wood — are now home to a dozen birds, including Salmon Faverolle, Speckled Sussex, Rhode Island Reds and Plymouth Barred Rocks.
What began as an idea sparked by health teacher Sue Antonsen and a group of fifth-graders on the school’s farming committee has taken full flight. Antonsen, whose wheels started turning this past school year when 4-H members brought in some eggs to the school’s third-grade classrooms for the students to hatch, now sees an opportunity where the students can learn a multitude of lessons.
“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if we were able to keep the chickens that they hatch and raise them in the garden,’” Antonsen said. “The kids approached the principal after I warned him we were coming and he was all for it.”
Once it was approved by the principal, the students — led by now sixth-graders Benicio Archuleta and Madi Morris — put together a PowerPoint presentation for county officials who came to the school for a special hearing.
After hearing the students’ plans to keep the coop clean, put in protective ground wire and cover the structures to keep predators out, as well as understand that the chickens would be quiet with the exception of when they laid eggs, the county approved the request of students to have between 10 and 12 animals, instead of the four chickens typically allowed at a Highlands Ranch residence.
After that, Boy Scouts Nick Robert and Spencer Jezek each volunteered to build one of the structures as their respective Eagle Scout project. Robert, a senior at Highlands Ranch High School with plans to study architectural engineering in college, worked on the coop for four weekends, finishing up July 13. Jezek, a freshman at Rock Canyon, led a team of volunteers in putting together the run and laying the protective ground wire, using recyclable materials from the school’s old greenhouse.
“It’s really interesting to see how they like it,” Robert said. “When we watched the first chicken hop up the steps and go in, it was really pretty exciting.”
And while the chickens all get comfortable in their new home over the summer, Antonsen said plans for the fall call for teaching about sustainability as students use scraps from the cafeteria to supplement the chicken feed, as well as to turn into compost to add nutrients to the garden.
“It takes a lot of responsibility to take care of chickens,” said sixth-grader Jared Mata.
As per funding, the structures were taken care of by the Boy Scouts, and everything else the chickens need in the future will be paid for through the sale of eggs.