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Oscar Mayer Magnet School's Chicken Coop Connects Lincoln Park

By Paul Biasco | October 31, 2013 11:00am | Updated on October 31, 2013 11:07am
Oscar Mayer Chicken Coop
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DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

LINCOLN PARK — Each morning before the sun comes up, the solar-powered door to the chicken coop outside the entrance of Oscar Mayer Magnet School slowly creaks open.

One by one, the six chickens waddle out into their reclaimed wood barn. They await the students and families of the school to let them run free in a 30-by-10-foot hay-covered space, where they scurry, scratch and squawk at children arriving for class and passing neighbors.

"When you actually get to see it, it's amazing," said sixth-grader Olivia Gork. "Before this, I just thought chickens were only in the country."

Gork can thank her school's chicken coop for her newfound knowledge.

The chickens have allowed for science lessons to be taken out of the classroom and have provided students with real-life examples of life cycles and where their morning eggs really come from.

 Oscar Mayer Magnet School in Lincoln Park started a chicken coop with six chickens this school year.
Oscar Mayer Chicken Coop
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One class that was studying soil recently took a trip out to the chicken coop, just steps from their classroom, to study how soil receives its nutrients.

It proved to be a messy lesson in the building blocks of composting.

"They were doing these labs where the lettuce stopped growing, so [the teacher] brought them out here," said Angela Gore, an Oscar Mayer parent and member of the school's Wellness and Sustainability Team. "They got it. It clicked how it is all connected."

The school and its parents aren't new to bringing real-life lessons into the classroom, as Oscar Mayer has run a student-tended garden since 2008.

The introduction of the chicken coop and roaming grounds for the animals came thanks to a nearly $10,000 donation from The Hideout bar last spring.

The space where the chickens roam sits right along the sidewalk on Clifton Avenue near Belden. If you happen to walk by before or after school, chances are the chickens will be out.

The chickens are quick. When they aren't scratching at the hay beneath their feet, they flutter up onto planter boxes just feet from classroom windows.

The neighbors of the homes surrounding Oscar Mayer have even started referring to the fowl as "our chickens."

"Neighbors who didn't even know each other's names are now standing at the fence together watching the chickens," said Anastasia Hinchsliff, who has headed up the chicken coop project.

Dog walkers should avoid the half-block stretch of chicken territory, as most curious canines with enough bulk and a little aggression make a beeline for the fence.

So far, only one chicken has made it over the roughly 5-foot wrought iron fence and was recovered without incident.

The chickens like their coop and prefer not to wander, according to Hinchsliff, whose husband owns The Hideout.

"We were concerned about rats and raccoon and coyotes, but it's been DePaul students that we are really trying to keep out with all the locks and security cameras," said Dave Lewin, a parent member of the chicken coop team.

After one recent chicken heckling episode by DePaul students, a neighbor who live across from the coop had had enough and stayed up for a late-night stakeout.

He gave them a stern talking to and hasn't seen the group since.

The care of the chickens has turned into a community effort. So far, 50 families or individuals have taken the "chicken coop 101" training class and signed up to care for the coop for a week.

That includes neighborhood residents without children at the school.

"The community bridge, that was a surprise for us," Hinchsliff said.

Neighbors have changed their walking routes to make the coop part of their routine, and when the chickens are out free-ranging in the yard, Hinchsliff has noticed people are taking their eyes off their smartphones.

"People stopped doing this," Hinchsliff said, while pecking away at an imaginary smartphone. "They are actually looking at each other, at the chickens and just watching."

While the team behind the chicken coop has no plans to eat the animals, each morning they have been treated to a new batch of between four and six eggs.

An Oscar Mayer fifth-grader discovered the first one on Sept. 19, which meant running into the school and interrupting every classroom to spread the good news.

"I think it's absolutely amazing that we are one of the only schools that has one of these," said Agnus Brinkman-Lowe, a sixth-grader who is trying to persuade her family to get some chickens for their home.

When the chickens were first introduced to the school, there was, of course, a student-run naming contest.

After receiving about 300 submissions, the chicken team combined 17 of those submissions to come up with hybrid names such as Plymouth Rock and Millie Mariposa.

The naming of the sixth chicken was put up for auction to benefit the school and, after a bit of a bidding war, drew a nearly four-figure price to name the last bird "Chicken Serious" after Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews.

For interested parties trying to visit the chickens, shoot for around 3 p.m. and bring along lettuce, their favorite food.

"You can read about it, but when you see it, it’s a whole different connection," Hinchsliff said.