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ChickQuest provides Ohio kids a connection to farm

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Six years ago the Ohio Soybean Council (OSC) and checkoff program took on an initiative to get agriculture into schools around the state by training teachers on curriculum and providing them all the materials necessary to hatch chicks in their classrooms.

The program is known as ChickQuest and become quite popular over these years. The curriculum is connected to Grow Next Generation Science Standards, with a focus on third- and fourth-graders in Ohio.

“With a large majority of Americans being two or more generations removed from farms and agriculture, it is rare that children get to have a firsthand experience in any aspect of the industry,” said Laura Beckham, whose grandsons participated in ChickQuest in Clermont County.

“The boys’ grandfather tilled land in this county and Warren County, yet farming was not passed along to the next generation. Such programs serve as a teaching tool, explaining the role agriculture plays in their lives.”

Each year, between 175-200 teachers enroll in workshops that help them understand and teach agriculture in their classrooms.

“I keep thinking the workshops won’t fill up, but here we are with another one sold out,” said Jeanne Gogolski, a project leader with Education Projects and Partnerships. “We do three or four workshops a year and train up to 200 teachers.

“It’s been amazing. Teachers know it’s a good program and it spreads by word of mouth. This is also part of OSC’s GrowNextGen curriculum that helps teachers learn more about understanding and teaching about agriculture.”

ChickQuest originated as a few classroom activities the Ohio Poultry Assoc. organized in counties with egg production. The programming was well-received and the revamped curriculum has expanded.

The expanded curriculum includes 18 lesson plans filled with STEM-based (science, technology, engineering and math) studies designed to provide one activity per school day for students until day 21, when the eggs should begin to hatch. Included in the lessons are egg production and nutrition information that also highlights the soybean industry’s role in animal agriculture.

Gogolski credits many for the success of ChickQuest – organizations including the OSC, United Soybean Board (USB) and various hatcheries that have helped relocate the chicks from homes or farms once they have hatched.

“I love the ChickQuest program, not only because it teaches our students more about science and math in conjunction with agricultural material, but it allows us an opportunity to spend the time with each participant,” said Leslie Cooksey, 4-H educator in Fairfield County.

“This program offers a lot of ‘a-ha’ moments for the children,” said Tony Staubach, program manager for 4-H Agriscience in the Cincinnati Public Schools. “Many of the kids have never experienced the lifecycle of, say, a chicken and (this) lets them see how this connects to the real world.”

ChickQuest is a partnership among the OSC, USB, Meyer Hatchery in Ashland and extension agents from Ohio State University. The latter have the task of relocating the chicks to homes or farms once they have hatched.

“Teachers leave the training with everything they need, including incubators, lab equipment, log books for students and a coupon to order fertilized eggs,” Gogolski said. “We stay in touch with them after the training and help them to repeat the curriculum on their own each year.”

While the workshops in central Ohio continue to fill up, some of the biggest success stories come from Akron and Cleveland city schools. Last year, 25 teachers and 1,700 students in Cleveland took part in the program.

And, there are other learning experiences. One teacher reported the class buried a chick that didn’t survive, and it led to an emotional bonding experience for the children. Another classroom ended up with a chick that wouldn’t let the others have access to the food bowl, thus prompting a discussion about bullying.