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  April 16, 2001

Outreach Program Brings Chicken
and Egg to Urban Classroom

The group of wide-eyed children jump energetically about the classroom, flapping their arms and singing out in eager anticipation of what is to come.

"Where are the chicks? Are they in the eggs?" cries one. "Are the chicks hiding? Are they going to say 'Happy Birthday!' when they come out of their shell?" asks another. As the level of noise in the room rises from a murmur to a roar, one of the children cautions her classmates, "We gotta be quiet because they're probably scared."

The children, students at the Noah Webster School in Hartford, have reason to be excited. This afternoon Michelle Moore, head teacher at the 4-H farm in Bloomfield, is visiting their after-school program and promises to introduce them to another part of the agricultural world. The 4-H farm is run by the 4-H Development Fund, in partnership with the University's Cooperative Extension System.

During her previous visits, Moore planted seeds with the children and taught them about germination; brought along Fido, a black rabbit, and gave them a lesson on how to care for pets; and taught them about where their food comes from. This time, Moore is to teach the children about embryology. And to help illustrate her point, she has brought along a downy covered collection of newborn chicks.

Moore's visits to the Noah Webster School are part of the 4-H farm's Visiting Schools Project, which provides a means of interaction between farm staff and children at pre-school to second grade levels. Additional topics for the hour-long sessions include biotechnology and "Getting in the Food Mood."

Moore incorporates live animals and plants into the program, to give the students a hands-on understanding of various aspects of agriculture.

"Live animals have a significant impact on children," she says, "especially when they have never seen the particular species before."

Making embryology a hands-on experience requires careful planning. After obtaining the fertilized eggs from the University's poultry farm, Moore incubates them at 99¼C to 101¼C for 21 days. The incubation process requires that the eggs be turned three times a day.

"I've had really good hatching rates," says Moore, who times the birth of the chicks to coincide with the dates of her embryology programs. "As long as you keep the conditions right, it works out perfectly and the chicks hatch on time."

Building the excitement for the arrival of the chicks, Moore talks to the group about chickens and how they grow. She uses glossy posters highlighting the different parts of the egg and full grown hens and roosters. She also encourages the children to participate in a motor activity, telling them to take a pretend drink of water from the ground and then tilt their heads back to gulp it down as a chicken would do. The children also pass around an egg and learn about the difference between eggs from a supermarket and those that are fertilized on the farm.

Just when the children think they can wait no longer, Moore walks to the far side of the room and pulls from the styrofoam incubator a warm and fragile chick. She gently holds it in her hands and allows the children to take turns using one finger to stroke its brown and yellow flecked coat.

All around the room the children's eyes are wide with happiness.

"Everybody loves chicks," says Moore, "no matter how old they are."

Rebecca Stygar

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