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All hens on deck – an innovative approach to sustainability

By Valentina Zuin and Jacyl Ware, Environmental Sustainability and Stewardship, East Campus

How do we introduce ideas and concepts around sustainability, urban farming and permaculture all in one all-encompassing, innovative programme? Would you have thought poultry farming?

UWCSEA East chicken

UWCSEA East buzzed with excitement when Chicken-based Learning was introduced at the start of the 2022/2023 school year. The brainchild of East Campus’ Environmental Sustainability and Stewardship team, this programme offers numerous learning opportunities that relate to Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities, and that engage students around sustainability, urban farming, and permaculture while connecting them to the natural world and animals. By learning how to care for a brood of happy, healthy chickens, students can make informed food choices and develop a greater understanding of where their food comes from. Through Chicken-based Learning, we aim to inspire a lifelong passion for environmental stewardship and sustainable living, empowering our students to become agents of change in their own communities and beyond.

Our gentle and easygoing Singaporean Buff Orpingtons have been hand-raised since hatching in September 2022. Soon after their arrival on campus in October, our feathered friends answered several questions from curious students who wrote to a dedicated email address asking them everything from “What is your favourite vegetable?” to “How did you learn how to type?”

UWCSEA East chickens and students

The design and implementation of Chicken-based Learning was a labour of love spanning five years, reflecting the dedication and commitment of our educators, students, and the broader community. This ambitious initiative required careful consideration and planning to ensure seamless integration into the existing curriculum and effectiveness in serving the educational needs of our diverse student body. 

Through engaging students across various age groups and interests, we promote environmental stewardship and a deeper understanding of sustainable practices. Students of all ages learn valuable life skills, such as cooperation, responsibility, and problem-solving, as they collaborate to care for the chickens and maintain the permaculture systems in place.

It’s all hands (or hens?) on deck. Grade 5 students play a crucial role in the daily care, feeding, and health management of the chickens. They are responsible for ensuring the chickens have access to clean water, food, and a safe and comfortable living environment. Kindergarten 2 students explore the adaptive features of chickens and learn about the composting benefits they provide. Through this experience, young learners are introduced to the concept of permaculture, which emphasises the importance of closed-loop, sustainable systems. 

UWCSEA East chickens all

The Primary School Leaders of Environmental Initiatives oversee the entire programme, ensuring that all student interactions are well-coordinated and effective. They lead student sessions and provide opportunities for other students to engage with the chickens, fostering a school-wide culture of environmental responsibility.

High School Urban Gardeners contribute to the programme by designing and constructing a customised, moveable chicken tractor. This innovative tool allows the chickens to help dig over the raised garden beds in the Rooftop NEST, providing valuable compost and pest management. This collaboration between the chickens and students showcases the practical applications of permaculture principles in action.

This hands-on approach provides real-world application of Personal, Social, and Emotional (PSE) Curriculum Units that are currently being planned for the next academic year in both the Middle and High School.

The success of Chicken-based Learning at UWCSEA East serves as a testament to the power of hands-on, experiential learning and the importance of incorporating sustainability and permaculture into education. As our students become more connected to the natural world and the food they consume, they will be better equipped to address the challenges of sustainable living in cities in the 21st century.

We invite our community members to witness the transformative impact of Chicken-based Learning on our students and the environment. We believe that the programme's success will not only benefit our campus but also inspire other educational institutions to adopt similar initiatives, creating a ripple effect that extends far beyond our school gates. Together, we can shape a greener, more sustainable future for generations to come.