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The chicken shed

Another favourite site for some of the older students was the chicken (chook) shed and the associated responsibility of caring for the school's 20 chickens. On my walking tour with two of the male students I was taken to a more isolated section of the school ground not far from the wetlands, but some distance from the main school buildings. After arriving at the chicken shed students showed me the nesting boxes and the extensive chicken enclosure that was covered with green shade cloth for sun protection. Here busy chickens sifted through a freshly dumped mound of vegetable scraps recently collected from the classrooms by one of the chook monitors who told me:

Mainly I'm in charge of [the chicken scraps] groups. They go around to each classroom and get their chook scrap bin and take their food and put it into a bigger bin. And then they take the bin with some pellets up to the chooks that the chooks then eat and then there'll be none left.

Upon entering the chook shed, the other student Alex explained the team's level of accountability:

We've got our own chooks. We've got a lot of responsibility here. When I first took over the chickens you would walk outside your class and you'd see a chicken run past, they were everywhere around the school. Me and my team ended up rounding them up, putting them back in their pen and fixing up all the holes in there. And my work has finally come through and we have two, three new baby chickens. [A chicken expert who visited the school] talked about how to get rid of mites and black mites which is in their feathers. He said we should have some railing up for roosting that we built in the afternoon. He said we had to paint their legs with used cooking oil and ash to stop mites. Now they can walk easier because the leg mites stop them from walking. They [the mites] bury their heads into the chickens and suck their blood. My chickens at home have never looked better. I treat them with the best respect.

Most striking in Alex's story is the robust sense of passion, enthusiasm and pride he has for his work. The opportunity to participate in this aspect of the programme emerged from a new leadership position created by Nel for a student to lead a small team to manage the chickens. In supporting Alex as leader and the team of boys who initially knew very little about chickens and their needs, Nel invited a local chicken farmer to the school to work with the 'chook monitors'. By showing the boys some basic skills - constructing new railing for night-time roosting, clipping wings and treating for leg mites - Alex and his team began to develop a wide-ranging set of animal (chicken) husbandry skills. His affection for and treatment of the animals 'with the best respect' reveals his deep love for them. His growing self-assurance means he can effectively care for them now that 'his team' knows what to do. Building on these experiences he confidently applies his newfound knowledge to the chickens at home.

The Landcare responsibilities have been transformational for Alex who is now considered an expert in handling and rearing the school's chickens. Nel explains that 'what's worked for someone like Alex is that he has seen someone who is really passionate about chooks. It's pretty unusual for kids to learn from someone who is so knowledgeable about chooks'. Prior to his Landcare role, Alex was known as a disengaged learner with low levels of classroom confidence and poor educational performance. His Landcare identity opens up a new world of possibility and identity where he is an empowered and motivated leader, inspired to communicate his team's 'chook monitoring' success in the school newsletter.

One critical factor that supports the chicken monitors and which was evident more broadly across the Landcare programme was the extensive contact with community members who brought different views of the world into the school. The widespread level of community involvement meant that students worked collaboratively with active and retired farmers, beekeepers, gardeners, flower growers, composters, ornithologists, local artists and orchardists committed to sharing expertise and investing in supporting the school community through educating future generations. In 2008 for example, Nel organised over 90 days of community involvement that allowed students to work with active community people she regarded as 'making a difference in their community' (Figure 3.2).

You see this community is a unique community in that it's a beautiful coastal environment that is bringing tourists in, but there's still a traditional sort of community as well that is part of the old farming ways in terms of how people behave, feel about where they live, prepared to take action, prepared to do things. You know if you can get them in small groups, one on one working with these people who are really passionate about what they do, there are so many people

A coastal classroom without walls

Figure 3.2 A coastal classroom without walls

in Woodbridge. We're fortunate in our community that we do have that sort of range of enterprising people in our community - who are active, eccentric, different - who are willing to support what we're doing. I feel it's a pretty unique situation that we can really tap into.

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