The Goats

Early in the 2015-16 school year, The Fulton School incorporated three Nubian goats into their budding Farm Program.
 
When the goats arrived, the energy of the welcoming committee of 7th through 10th graders was electric. “They were acting like brand-new parents,” said Head of School Kara Douglass. “Boys were testing out the new shelter's durability, kids were smothering the animals one minute, testing their free will the next, and fawning over their first bite of plants on the hillside.”

The Farm Program began in 2014 as a living curriculum. To date, it includes an apiary with four hives (more than 200,000 bees), chickens, blackberries and raspberries, an apple orchard, vegetable gardens, and now goats.
 
Because the school is toddler through 12th grade, this program was specifically designed to be accessible whether you’re two years old or a junior in high school. Younger students get to see the growth cycle of many fruits and vegetables firsthand, while assisting with the care and keeping of small animals. As students get older they use the farm program in math, science, and history, in addition to building character through responsibility, compassion, leadership, and teamwork.
 
Upper School biology teacher, Valerie Mertz, is enjoying using the Farm Program as part of her class. “So far this year in biology,” said Mertz, “we extracted DNA from blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries -- all raised on the farm.  We have also planted spinach and lettuce as a class project.”
 
The goats have taken up residence in a fenced-in area on the hillside behind the school.  Fulton School parent (and garden curator at Shaw Nature Reserve) Scott Woodbury built a sturdy, hillside chalet for the mama and babies – good shelter from the elements. “Goat Hill,” as it has been named, is visible from both the music and art rooms, as well as the dining room. Students are welcome to visit the goats outside of class time, before and after school, and during their recess and lunch period (and even share their leftovers with the vegetarian newcomers). Teachers are welcome to harness up the mama and take her on walks around the school.
 
“The goats provide a learning experience for all grade levels,” said Mertz.  “Students have eagerly taken on feeding, grooming, and walking the goats. The care and protection of the goats is serious business for these students.”
 
“The goats -- any animal, really -- provide a broad platform for character and academic lessons across all age levels at the school,” said Douglass. “They offer an acceptable means for shy kids to feel safe, for boys to show affection, for active kids to be tactile, for timid kids to be brave, for enthusiastic kids to have to wait their turn and share, and for kids who aren't feeling a lot of successes to find an area that they may thrive.”
  
Dr. Lensyl Urbano, Upper School math and science teacher, confirmed the goats’ role in the subjects he teaches. “Our very first project, which started even before the goats got here, was to study their impact on the environment,” said Urbano. “The middle schoolers went in and identified all the species of plants in the goat paddock and mapped their spatial distribution. Now we are continuing to monitor what the goats are eating to see if they have any preferences to determine if they can be used to help get rid of some of the invasive plant species on campus.”

The Farm Program gives the teachers a means to build student, family, and academic skills. Because of its roots in Montessori, the school believes in creating lessons using materials that are naturally interesting to the student. “We believe it is more engaging to teach responsibility through care and connection to a goat, than through rote cleaning chores,” said Douglass, “although we have those too. Scientific inquiry is deeper when you're truly curious about which plants yourgoats are eating on the hillside than when it's just the next chapter in the science book.”
 
“As physics, robotics and programming advance, we hope to automate their water, add webcams, and come up with other excuses to study and research and innovate -- about something real and meaningful and right in our backyard.
In fact, this winter our students researched, purchased, and installed solar panels on the side of the goat house which stores energy to maintain a water de-icer. This ensured that the goats had drinkable water during the coldest days.”

So what will the students learn from the goats?  “Just about anything and everything,” said Douglass.