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4-H hatches virtual learning ‘egg-sperience’ at Palm Beach schools

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. – Fluffy yellow chicks are typically crowd pleasers, especially with young children and teachers. For almost a decade, hundreds of chicks have been the featured attraction in a popular 4-H educational program known as the Embryology School Enrichment Program held at various Palm Beach County schools.

Dr. Kisha Jarrett at Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary demonstrates candling, a process used to see the development of a chick inside the shell. She demonstrated this during a virtual meet with her students as part of the month-long Embryology School Enrichment Program led by UF/IFAS Extension Palm Beach County.

When COVID-19 required educators to transform their hands-on classroom lessons to online learning, parents altered their lives to incorporate this new classroom experience at home with the objective of creating a successful transition. Meanwhile, 4-H agents took steps to continue delivering the hands-on enrichment program in a virtual platform. Despite stay-at-home orders closing classrooms for the year, the lessons continued letting students learn and experience the life cycle of a baby chicken from embryo to hatchling.

“We are long-time, proud partners of many Palm Beach school teachers and we bring many activities into the classroom each year,” said Noelle N. Guay, 4-H agent at UF/IFAS Extension Palm Beach County. “The Embryology Program is by far the most popular with a waiting list among elementary and K-8 schools. Though schools are physically closed, we were not about to let that stop us from running this great learning experience, so we turned it into a virtual experience for teachers to conduct.”

Typically, the program provides fertile eggs and all the necessary equipment for incubation and post-hatch care into classrooms throughout the year. The educational materials are provided to teachers by 4-H agents allowing students to observe the journey of an embryo through its 21-day lifecycle until it hatches. The fertile eggs are donated by community partners Prism Farms, Shores Animal Clinic, and Stormin Tailwind Farms.

The lesson plan takes place in stages. It starts with an explanation between what makes a fertile egg and ones they see at the grocery store. They learn about the anatomy of an egg, the different types of chickens and their chicks, the process of candling providing for a rare view of the embryo as it forms its circulatory system. On some occasions, they even get a rare look at some surprises along the way.

“The kids and families are loving this connection to nature and watching the recordings of me candling the embryos,” said Leslee Hoepner-Scruggs at American Heritage School. “It is very exciting because we saw movement in the egg during candling last Thursday. We are so grateful for the opportunity to connect with one another during this time of quarantine as new life springs this season. This embryology program gives the students motivation to log on and watch the development unfold.”

During a virtual lesson, students at American Heritage see a virtual update of their eggs in the incubators noting how one chick has begun to peck at its shell.

As the third week of online school came to a close, Guay and program specialists started receiving additional reports and social posts from teachers about their students’ experiences with the first batch of kits and eggs. The next set of five schools will receive kits in May with lesson plans that will take them through the end of the school year.

“My students have been really excited to see the progress of the chicks when we do our Google Meets,” said Stacey Neps, of H.L. Johnson Elementary School. “They ask me every day how many more days until they hatch. I’m hoping to go live when some are hatching so they can see it.”

“It’s going great so far. We are about to hold a naming contest,” said Kimberly Holley, of Grassy Waters Elementary School. “Each grade will vote to name one chick. The kids are very excited.”

“I just candled the eggs on a Google Meet with my class,” said Cheryl Meeks of H.L. Johnson Elementary School. “They are so excited that we have six eggs that have embryos developing.”

One teacher, Dr. Kisha Jarrett from Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School, has shared the experience on YouTube for others to see in a day by day journey of the chicks. Here is a link to the experience.

By the end of the school year, approximately 28 schools will have received kits with a final distribution scheduled this year to four schools in May. Next year, schools can register beginning in August through an online survey that 4-H Extension Palm Beach County will post on their site. For more information about 4-H programs or to locate the local UF/IFAS 4-H Extension in your county, select this link.

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By: Lourdes Rodriguez, 954-577-6363 office, 954-242-8439 mobile, rodriguezl@ufl.edu 

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human, and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries and all Florida residents.

ifas.ufl.edu  @UF_IFAS

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