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Taking care of plants, chickens and bees while students are away

In mid- March, the lights dimmed, the students and staff went home to shelter in place, and the deafening silence filled the classrooms when Gov. Gretchen Witmer declared a stay-at-home order to slow the COVID-19 pandemic. But at the Kent Career Tech Center, the greenhouse right around the corner — and the chicken coop and bee station down the hill — were still buzzing with activities and sounds from the animals inside. 

Roosters crowed and the hens clucked back.The plants were still growing and thriving, reaching their leaves to the sun. Heather Pratt, an instructor in the Tech Center’s Sustainable Agriscience program, and her assistant Angelica Varajas, a career and technical education specialist, take turns caring for fauna and flora alike while schools are closed. 

They water and fertilize plants, disbud geraniums, tend to pesticide needs, weed and compost. They feed the chickens, collect their eggs, provide food and water for the rabbits, feed the fish, and tend to the honeybees. They will be visiting the greenhouse and animals until they hold a sale or otherwise distribute the plants, chickens, rabbits.

All keeps the greenhouse’s little world healthy while students are away. Said Angelica: “I like watching the students’ growth throughout the year and watching where they take these skills into the future.”

Added Heather: “My favorite part about Agriscience is creating opportunities for students to interact and learn about the world around them, and discover careers related to improving the environment and human interaction with it.”

Angelica Varajas, a career and technical education specialist at the Kent Career Tech Center, feeds a geranium blossom to the rabbits
Angelica Varajas fills the rabbits’ water pail while interacting with them
All the rabbits know to go to the water tubes when they are thirsty
Angelica Varajas waters and fertilizes the annuals and perennials in the greenhouse
Angelica Varajas disbuds the geranium plants so plant energy will go to the leaves
Beekeeper Jason Googins checks on a new installation of honey bees
Angelica Varajas feeds the fish in the classroom
Angelica Varajas holds one of the many 6-month-old rabbits she cares for
The last details of the upcoming events written on the board in the classroom before the school shutdown
The students’ boots are stored on this handmade rack that Heather Pratt’s father made
Heather Pratt, a Sustainable Agriscience instructor at the Kent Career Tech Center, hand-feeds some greens to her friends in the chicken coop
Heather Pratt, a Sustainable Agriscience instructor at the Kent Career Tech Center, hand-feeds some greens to her friends in the chicken coop
Heather Pratt gathers up to four dozen eggs every two days
Heather Pratt gathers up to four dozen eggs every two days
Heather Pratt says hello to one of the chickens housed near the Tech Center
A small hen emerges from the nesting room. A small door was cut out of the big chicken coop door for the hens and roosters to come and go as they please, and to protect them from other bigger wildlife
After feeders are full, water is checked, eggs are gathered, it’s time to say goodbye until next time
A carton of eggs can be sold to students and staff
A honeycomb drawn out in three short days on the underside of the inner cover
Honey can be sold to students and staff
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Dianne Carroll Burdick
Dianne Carroll Burdick
Dianne Carroll Burdick has worked as a photojournalist in the West Michigan area since 1991. A graduate of Western Michigan University, she has photographed for The Grand Rapids Press, USA Today, Sports Illustrated, Detroit Free Press, Advance Newspapers, Grand Rapids Magazine, BLUE Magazine and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting and thought provoking stories of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2016.

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