Starting next school year, George Marks Elementary School will offer an agricultural education program complete with farm animals that live on campus.
The new program will help young students better understand the natural world, and it will put them on a path to success if they continue agricultural education in middle and high school, Principal Shannon Young told The Beacon.
“This has been a little dream of mine,” Young said. “A lot of our students’ families are into ag.”
Thanks to support from students’ parents, other community members and the local 4-H Club, the new program’s farm will have two cows, a donkey, two sheep and some chickens— all in a fenced area — for children to feed, learn about and help raise.
The two cows — Dunkin and Donut, named in a poll by George Marks students — are miniature Hereford cows. Each cow was purchased by the school for $3,500 from a farm in South Florida that verified the 9-month-old cows’ ages and health.
The George Marks farm was gifted a donkey named Junior, too, to serve as the cows’ “protector,” Young said.
The farm will also have chickens, provided by the parents of a George Marks student, and two sheep courtesy of a school employee, Greg Burns.
The animals will live at George Marks Elementary on a one-and-a-half acre fenced parcel near the school’s boundary on Amelia Avenue.
While the animals are cute, the farm will have serious educational value, too.
“This isn’t a petting zoo,” Young explained. “We’re teaching life cycles; manure is used for gardening, those kinds of things.”
Young’s hope, too, is that the students will eventually be able to show animals raised at the school in the Volusia County Fair’s youth programs.
Getting the ag program established at the school and getting the animals there has been a five-year-long process, Young said.
“We had to raise the funds,” she said. “This was all done through fundraisers and community donations.”
And the community is still involved. DeLand High School students will build the coop that will house the school’s chickens, and Young plans to sell the eggs the chickens produce to students’ families.
Leading the program will be DeLand native Chloe Simon. Currently, she’s working as a substitute teacher at George Marks Elementary, but she’s been working with livestock for a good part of her life.
“I moved out to Texas for a position with a 4-H program where we took goats to Title I schools and worked with kids in Austin. We did a program with that where we were teaching them about the animals and where their food came from,” Simon told The Beacon. “Very similar to what we’re hoping for with the program.”
Simon’s connected to George Marks, too. Not only did she go to the school, but her mom, Diane Simon, has been an elementary school teacher there for 20 years.
“In some way, I’ve kind of always been connected with the school. Even after I left, I was always coming back and helping in my mom’s classroom,” Chloe Simon said. “When I went off to college, I was always coming back and volunteering. I never really left.”
While George Marks’ staff work to put together a curriculum for next year’s agricultural education course, Simon said she is excited to teach the students about their new animal neighbors and how they’re all connected through food systems, agricultural systems and more.
“I think it’ll be a really good program for the kids,” Simon said. “It gives them that connection.”
The ag program will enter the regular rotation of subjects offered at George Marks, including music, physical education and art, beginning next year.
I LOVE THIS! Noah and The Beacon thank you for this article and kudos to all who are involved and all who allowed this program happen George Marks.
Congratulations and a great program. I went to this school K thru 6th grade 51 years ago. I am a goat and chicken breaker now. I use to do sheep Tull all the kids graduated out FFA. I would live to donate a couple goats when you are ready for those.