Carroll County Times
SYKESVILLE, Md. - When the young students at Ava Wanas Montessori School in Sykesville were recently learning about Mexico, the school's administration thought making egg burritos and quesadillas would be a fun way to bring the lesson to life.
It was also another way for the school to use the chickens they have on their property as an educational tool, according to McKenzie Ditter, the school's administrative assistant.
The chickens have been at the school, located on College Avenue, for nearly a year now, after the Sykesville Town Council passed an ordinance last May allowing educational facilities to raise chickens on their property without the 200-foot property setback that is otherwise required.
Ditter came to the council expressing interest in having chickens after a resident had asked the council to lessen the 200-foot setback requirement.
The town planning commission recommended against changing the ordinance for residents but suggested the council look at changing it for educational institutions.
Councilman Ian Shaw conducted a feasibility study by talking to chicken owners and looking at other communities that allow chicken and other livestock raising before drafting the amendment.
During discussions on the matter, Shaw said it would be a great way to allow the school to have something unique to offer.
The ordinance requires the school to register their chickens with the Maryland Department of Agriculture and states it can have a maximum of six chickens at a time.
After the ordinance was passed, parents helped the school build a chicken coop, where three chickens now live, and where three more will live in a few weeks.
The 50 or so students, in the primary and kindergarten programs, have all loved taking care of the chickens together and learn a lot of important lessons from them, according to Marie Atalla, the school's owner and founder.
"They learn how to take care of animals and that teaches them to be empathetic," Atalla said. "They also see now where some of their food comes from, from the chickens and not just the grocery store all the time."
The chickens are fed leftover food scraps from the school and some parents also bring in their own scraps, which teaches the children about composting.
While some parents of the students were originally worried that the chickens could cause a mess or attract snakes, all the parents are now happy that they are there, Ditter said.
"Honestly, keeping chickens is so much easier than keeping a cat or a dog," Ditter said. "We've even had parents asking for advice on how to get their own chickens."
Information from: Carroll County Times of Westminster, Md., http://www.carrollcounty.com/
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)