LAKEVIEW — Class pets at Burley Elementary have gotten quite the upgrade.
Starting Friday, students in the Lakeview school's Sustainability Club began taking care of a flock of chickens. The hens' new home is a cherry red chicken coop unveiled last week as part of Burley's Eco:Lab initiative geared toward teaching students about sustainability and environmental issues.
"We don't just want them to learn about it; we want our students to be able to experience it, act on it and realize the part they can play in it and actually have fun doing it," said Burley Principal Catherine Plocher.
Since older students in the club learned how to handle their feathered charges, "chicken therapy" has become a popular pastime at Burley. With a chicken tenderly in hand, students circle up and take turns feeding or petting the birds while chatting about what they've learned.
"I've learned a lot about sustainability, and I live my life different because of it," said Ella McMahon, a fifth-grade student at Burley. "There's always trash on the ground, and normally I'd step over it. Now I think I should pick it up — it's just one simple move I learned to make a change."
Ella is already well-versed in the finer aspects of raising the school's 10 chickens (plus three chicks currently residing in Plocher's office). She knows they like to peck at apple cores and cucumbers — leftovers from school lunch — and what it looks like when a too-well-loved chicken is feeling overwhelmed.
While the Sustainability Club is open to students in third grade and older, kids of all ages will interact with the chickens with the help of club members. [All photos DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
Students enjoy circling up for "chicken therapy," where they discuss caring for the birds and other lessons in sustainability.
The chicken coop is the latest element of Burley's Eco:Lab, which also features an adjacent vegetable garden, greenhouse and lunchtime composting program.
The school, at 1630 W. Barry Ave., also wants to add rain barrels for hands-on lessons in water conservation, pollinator gardens and a solar panel for the field house.
"Bringing sustainability concepts to life, no matter how big or small, makes the concepts come alive," Plocher said. "By making learning hands-on, students' understanding of sustainability concepts becomes three-dimensional, tactile and more memorable."
Not to mention more fun.
"The kids are bugging parents for chickens at home," Plocher said with a laugh. "I walk by here on the weekends and find them here taking care of the chickens."
Members of the school's Sustainability Club learned how to hold chickens and pass around the animals to fellow students.
Efforts to add the chicken coop began in August, with Burley looking for a way to pay for the project within a cash-strapped CPS.
Whole Foods raised the roughly $8,000 needed for the chicken coop with give back days at its two Lakeview locations. Five percent of proceeds from a day of shopping went toward the school's sustainability initiative.
Such fundraising, along with grant writing, are necessary for schools like Burley, a magnet cluster school with an emphasis on literature and technology, to afford elevated classroom experiences like its Eco:Lab, Plocher said.
"We want them to realize sustainability issues aren't just something we need to do as a world, but are fun to learn about and engage in," the principal said. "When things are hands-on and the students can learn and touch and do, they learn about it in a much deeper way."
Burley isn't alone in its push for sustainability; Oscar Mayer Magnet School in Lincoln Park added a solar-powered chicken coop of its own in 2013, and the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences raises chickens alongside horses, goats and piglets.
Students from Burley Elementary's Sustainability Club will be caring for 10 chickens now housed in the school's new chicken coop, which was unveiled Friday.
The new chicken coop is next to the school's greenhouse. Burley is also looking to add a solar panel and rain barrels to further its sustainability efforts.
Chickens and roosters are allowed as pets in Chicago, although subject to the city's noise ordinance. Companies like Rent-A-Chicken provide summer rentals of egg-laying chickens, coops and feed for hobbyists,
Local chicken consultant Jennifer Murtoff said hundreds of people have coops in Chicago, mostly in Logan Square and Humboldt Park, although Beverly is also home to a burgeoning backyard poultry scene.
Contributing: Justin Breen