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Free-range learning buddies

Fifth-graders teach kindergartners about chicks, other topics

Grand Rapids — The countdown to hatch time was on. 

With one week to go, Mulick Park Elementary kindergartners and fifth-graders checked in on a couple dozen incubating eggs, learning about what goes into hatching and raising them.

“It’s more developed. The embryo is bigger,” observed one fifth-grader as kindergarten teacher Jennifer Delgado shined a flashlight into a brown egg.

“It’s almost a chick!” said an excited kindergartner.

Kindergarten teacher Jennifer Delgado shows students how candling shows how much a chick embryo is developing

Using a process called candling, Delgado checked eggs one by one to see how much mass was visible inside. The class discovered a few chicks had stopped forming and needed to be tossed. Most were returned to the incubator for a final week of growth.

Before the activity, fifth-graders in teacher Helen Metcalf’s class explained what candling was to their kindergarten buddies: the light makes visible the growing chick from speck to fully formed bird, depending on its age.

Following the activity, they shared with their young friends what happens during and after the eggs hatch: when the fluffy chicks need to eat, drink and stay healthy until they are feathered and ready to fly the coop. Using learning webs, videos, pictures and other sources, the fifth-graders researched question after question to prepare a lesson for their buddies.

At the end of the hour, the fifth-graders were given another assignment for the next week’s buddy session: list what is needed to make a brooder box for the chicks to live in after they hatch.

The Benefits of Buddies

Fifth-graders are teachers and kindergartners are their wide-eyed pupils for an hour every Friday afternoon when Delgado and Metcalf bring their classes together. 

Fifth-grader Jadon Smith read to kindergartner Aurora Ford-Hirst. “You have to adjust the feed as baby chicks develop… As chicks mature, their nutrition needs change.”

“I’ve learned about the weather, the chicks and four seasons,” said kindergartner Bria Hopkins.

‘It’s almost like a big brother-big sister bond for many of them.’

— kindergarten teacher Jennifer Delgado

The fifth-graders take what they are learning in class, put the topics into kid-friendly terms and share with the kindergartners. 

 “The baby chicks are supposed to keep warm so they hatch and chicks need to dip their heads to get water,” said one kindergartner about a detail she learned from her buddies.

Delgado said the main intent of the buddies program, which she and Metcalf started last fall, was to deliver content in a fresh way. Fifth-graders have an audience, learn from many sources, and gain experience in modifying what they learn for the kindergartners. 

Kindergartners get extra doses of science and social studies — and older friends to look up to.

“The best thing about this is the culture it has created in the school,” Delgado said. “My kinders get so excited when the fifth-graders are coming, and when they see them in the breakfast room and in the hallway.”

 “It’s almost like a big brother-big sister bond for many of them… It is just super positive.”

Metcalf said she gives her students a basic question to explore and “they will often go above and beyond” with it to connect with their buddies.

“I’m trying to teach them about giving back and community. That’s really my main focus, along with teaching the curriculum. They are learning at a higher level — to be able to teach it to those kindergartners in kindergarten language,” Metcalf said.

She also sees the bonds forming, and exposure to a fulfilling career path.

“I talk to them about setting a great example, being a great role model, and I will throw it in there: ‘maybe you want to be a teacher one day and this will be a great start.’ ”

As for the eggs, Delgado brought them in from her hobby farm, beginning with 30 to incubate. After students care for the chicks for a few weeks, she will return them to her farm.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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