Chicks bring early spring to Conger Elementary

Klamath Falls, Oregon — “How is a heart made?” asked a second grader of Dr. Stewart Decker at the “Ask a Doc” station of Conger Elementary’s Wellness Carnival Feb. 20. The big question was not surprising in a school that just spent 22 days incubating chicken eggs to learn about embryonic growth, including heart development on day two.

The fertilized eggs and incubators were provided by Oregon State University’s Research and Extension Center to three second-grade classrooms, one kindergarten classroom and one fifth-grade classroom at Conger. The project was timed so that hatching would coincide with the school’s Wellness Carnival, which was introduced this year by the school’s Wellness Team, coordinated by the OSU Extension nutrition education team and supported by staff from Blue Zones, Sky Lakes Wellness Center and six members of the Oregon Institute of Technology Golf Team.

Together, the chicks and carnival activities drew more than 60 families for an evening focused on being physically active and making smart food choices.

Participants used water jugs to bowl over cans of sugary sodas, added lime wedges and mint leaves to cups of water, and planned healthful picnics. They wore pedometers to track steps (and jumps and hops), rode three-wheel bikes through a safety course and danced with “Go Noodle” videos. In the gym they competed at balloon tennis, parachute ball, basketball and even leaf raking.

Between wellness activities, kids and parents took breaks to watch fluffy chicks chirping under warming lamps, still-wet chicks resting inside transparent incubators, and one sharp beak working hard to break through the cracks (or “pips”) in its shell.

In Shelli Gaede’s second-grade classroom, Landen Creech had witnessed a chick emerge from its shell earlier in the day. Showing off the chicks to his family, he recalled how Mrs. Gaede had held a flashlight under an egg to reveal the developing embryo inside, a process called “candling.” Then, after a hand washing, he got permission to hold a one-day-old chick in carefully cupped hands.

“Its claws are pokey,” he said.

The chicks in Gian Christmas’s second-grade classroom were the first at Conger to hatch.

“Each day we added a card to the ‘countdown to hatching’ and read a little blurb about how our chicks were growing,” Christmas said. “The kids looked forward to it and were amazed at how quickly they matured and grew.”

When one egg failed to hatch, Christmas’s class voted to break it open to see where development had stopped. Finding only yolk and white with no embryo development, they determined it had been unfertilized at the start.

All of Conger’s chicks were transferred to Lost River High School Feb. 21 to be raised as meat chickens by members of the school’s FFA program.

Conger’s teachers were upfront with their students about the fact that the chicks would become food. Gaede said that while some of her students weren’t happy about it, most weren’t ruffled.

She noted, however, that the lunch menu that day could have been controversial: It was Orange Chicken.