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Archive for Tuesday, November 26, 2013

West Middle School students combine reading and farm animals to fight global poverty

November 26, 2013

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  • Liam Berns 12, pets an alpaca on Tuesday at West MIddle School as part of a "Read to Feed" project, which will raise money to help impoverished people in other countries own livestock. After the students get sponsors and complete a 6-week read-a-thon, they will pool the money together and decide what livestock they want to buy for families in need.

    Liam Berns 12, pets an alpaca on Tuesday at West MIddle School as part of a "Read to Feed" project, which will raise money to help impoverished people in other countries own livestock. After the students get sponsors and complete a 6-week read-a-thon, they will pool the money together and decide what livestock they want to buy for families in need.

    Here's how much science teacher Lucinda Crenshaw wants to get her seventh-graders at West Middle School reading over the holiday break: She offered to kiss a pig.

    On the mouth, on the nose — Crenshaw said she was flexible as long as the students met their reading goals, but she warned her class the pig itself "might not be cooperative." And though they don't have a pig on hand at the school, they did have two alpacas, two chickens and an obese goat named "Maggie" foraging in the school's courtyard on Tuesday. The animals were also there as part of the school's effort to get the kids reading, as well as thinking about how much of the world beyond Lawrence lives.

    It's all part of the Read to Feed challenge the seventh-graders at West are taking on. Read to Feed is a fundraising program developed and run by Heifer International, a charitable organization that connects people around the world who live in poorer areas with animals that can provide food and income.

    Read to Feed tasks students with finding sponsors to donate money for the time they spend reading during a six-week read-a-thon. With the funds students raise through reading sponsorship, they will help purchase animals through Heifer International that can benefit faraway families.

    The hope is the program will push kids to read more by offering incentives, such as getting Crenshaw to kiss a pig, or even a shark, as one student suggested. Teachers also hope the program will give students a broader perspective of the world by engaging them in a charitable enterprise. "It's often helpful for them to see and think beyond themselves" at their age, Crenshaw said.

    By bringing live animals to the school for students to see and help take care of, the school is taking the program one step further by engaging students with the process of raising livestock.

    The alpacas, chickens and goat were courtesy of Vickie Andrews, a para-educator at West, as a way to get students excited about Read to Feed. Andrews and her husband both grew up on farms and now live south of town on property that is home to more than 60 alpacas and a small herd of chickens.

    Andrews calls the alpacas "very calm," which is ideal when bringing animals to a school of excited preteens. Andrews also said her animals had been happy and well fed in the courtyard as they grazed on grass and fallen oak leaves. The alpacas even found their chosen spots to leave "fertilizer," as some teachers have taken to calling the droppings.

    "Fertilizer" is partly a euphemism, but it is also literal to some extent. Along with the reading challenge and foray into social giving, the students at West are getting a closeup view of a part of the food system often out of sight for folks in the city.

    "We take for granted that our kids are not around animals other than cats and dogs," Crenshaw said. "We're so far away from that."

    And the kids might already be showing a new awareness of the world, with all its many people and animals and the relationships among them. As perhaps a testament to that — or a testament to the seventh-grade sense of humor — Crenshaw overheard one student say during lunch, "Don't eat chicken nuggets in front of the chickens."

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