Written by Amy Gill, Teacher at The Lakes College.
Walking up the grassy hill from the paddock below the boys excitedly tail Virginia asking her questions about the horses pushing up against the fence, the types of birds fluttering from tree to tree and the bugs crawling underneath their muddy shoes. She answers all their questions without hesitation or judgement as she reaches to switch off the electric fence protecting the Muscovy ducks. The boys step over the wire laughing at how the ducks wiggle their feathers as they curiously plod by.
“So what we are going to do is gently check underneath each of the mother ducks down to see if any of their eggs have hatched”, says Virginia, female sustainable farmer extraordinaire and owner of Grace Springs Farm.
“What is down?”, asks one curious young person.
Virginia points to the light, fine, fluffy feathers spread delicately around one nesting mother providing thermal warmth to the treasures underneath.
“Like you get in pillows and stuff?”, asks another student. Virginia explains to the kids what the ducks contribute to the farm, their family and the world.
The boys eagerly begin searching for new hatchlings.
“We haven’t had many for a few days, so we might get lucky”, says Virginia hopefully.
The boys gather close as she checks the first duck. Nothing. The second. Nothing. She approaches the third and everyone leans in as she lifts the wing. Four, maybe five, wet newborns are revealed radiating joy and wonder upon the onlookers.
This is only one of the many amazing events the students at The Lakes College, a Youth Off The Streets school on the Central Coast, have had the opportunity to witness at Grace Springs Farm, Kulnura, over the past 10 weeks. The students at The Lakes College learn through Project-Based Learning, a teaching method where students are engaged in real world, hands on projects. Each class at The Lakes College has been learning for half a day on the farm as part of their studies in Science and Geography. Their unit of work Bee The Cure is centred around the driving question- How can the decrease in bee populations be remediated on a community level? Students have undertaken bee keeping workshops with Virginia’s husband Tony, have learned about sustainable practice and polyculture, have assisted Virginia in training the calves, built their own bee hotels for native bee populations, studied the ecosystem, learnt how to grow food from food scraps and offcuts, cooked with fresh produce and participated in farm chores. We even had some ducklings stay with us in the classroom for a few days! However, more importantly, on the farm they have connected with each other and the land forming greater bonds with students, staff, our new farming mentors and mother nature.
Learning on the farm is experience these students will never forgot. The learning program has been so successful that the partnership between Grace Springs Farm and The Lakes College will continue throughout the year and hopefully many years to come. Next term the students will establish their own beehive where they can produce, with Tony’s assistance, their own honey. They laugh as they joke about how they are giving back by taking Bees Off The Street.
Youth Off The Streets education services continue to look for new ways to approach learning that meets the specific needs of young people in our care. This is just one of many examples of the innovative learning practices implemented by Youth Off The Streets teaching staff and the wonderful community partnerships that are highly valued by our schools. Youth Off The Streets wishes to pass on their gratitude to Virginia and Tony for opening up their farm, their home and their hearts to the students of The Lakes College.
For more information on Grace Springs Farm please visit – https://www.gracespringsfarm.net/