Mass Ag in the Classroom Grant Offers Touchstone Students a Chicken Experience

The 8th graders of our Middle School (The Older Student Program) have been working on a project of considerable impact for the school. The OSP as a whole has successfully researched and written a grant proposal to expand our chicken flock. The 8th graders wrote a proposal to Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom and then had the good fortune (from a teaching perspective) to revise it with some comments from the MAC Grant Committee. The result is that TCS welcomed 15, day-old chicks to the community. We have five Silver Laced Wyandotte, five Buff Orpington and five Golden Buff..

April 11, 2014 Update. Coop: There It Is!
Between 3100 & 2800 BCE the Windmill Hill people of what is now England, began moving giant stones toward what would become known as Stonehenge, one of the world’s most famous, fascinating and mysterious earth and stonework sites. They used the ancient moving technique known only as ‘pushing’ (plus some clever use of leverage and possibly greased tracks). Between 11:00 and 11:30 a.m. the Graduates of the OSP began moving a giant wooden structure toward what is now known as The Chicken Yard, one of Touchstone’s most famous, fun and hopefully enduring new sites. The chickens are outside and enjoying it!  Stop by and say hi.

Chickens love being fed, so feel free to drop off apple cores, greens, and other fruits and veggies right in the pen (they won’t eat citrus). I do ask people to avoid touching the fence, it is not electrified  during the day so there is no risk of shock, but, it can be easily damaged though.

coop childrenincoop

It Takes a Village to Build a Coop



Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom (MAC) gave us the initial grant money to get this project started. On their website, MAC describes itself as a “small, private non-profit organization that has been working since 1984 to provide agricultural education and training. Our agricultural educational programs now reach more than 13,000 teachers and other educators annually, helping them to bring agriculture to life for their students by making the connection between the foods, fibers and other agricultural products they use every day and their agricultural roots, while also connecting these lessons to the Massachusetts curriculum frameworks.” TCS is living proof that MAC is living its mission; a huge thanks goes to them.


Koopman Lumber & Hardware, in North Grafton, generously donated the supplies to build our wonderful coop. We could not have done it without their generosity and wise counsel. Thank you Koopmam Lumber and Hardware.

J. B. Sawmill & Landscaping Inc., in Hopkinton provided a plentiful supply of wood shavings, clean chips-chipped from logs, no brush for our chickens-while the chicks were living indoors. Office staff, Michelle and Ginny transported bags of shavings from the mill to school. Thank you JB Sawmill!

Thank you to Touchstone teachers who put up with and cared for adorable and smelly little birds for as long as it took to finish the coop. The Merrills supplied the paint and stain to protect the wood, and John Bertolet helped design and build the coop. And of course, thank you to the OSP who conceived of this project and made it happen.

 See all the photos have been added to our  New Chicks album!

~Dave Cantler

Environmental Education

March 28, 2014 Update. It’s in the Air! Can you feel it? Spring is just around the corner. We have some crocuses beginning to pop up in the gardens and I have spotted them about town. It may not feel too much warmer yet, but the light has returned. Even as I type this it is 6:16 p.m., and I could read a book outside … well minus the wind and cold. Still, the light is coming back in force.

The OSP has begun preparing the greenhouse for their first official OSP plots. The students are responsible for planning, planting, and maintaining their own plots. They have already seeded their first lettuces which are now under grow lights in the Cottage.

Sheryl & Nancy’s troupe, along with Ed Harrow, helped us to assemble some major pieces for the chicken coop.


John Bertolet, aided by local farmer Jeff Backer of Potter Hill Farm, did the lion’s share of the construction over an extended, and cold, Sunday. All the wood, screws, bolts and more for the coop were provided by the generosity of the Koopman Family and Koopman Lumber; be sure to tell them “thanks” next time you are there. The new coop is close to completion. The interior is also well painted thanks to the generous paint donation of a TCS family. Thank you again to them.

Six new photos have been added to our New Chicks album!

March 14, 2014 Update. David Cantler Presents “Chicken Scratch” at Massachusetts Agricultural Conference. Recently TCS Garden Educator David Cantler presented our school’s chicken project at the Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom Spring Conference. His seminar, “Chicken Scratch” was well attended, and he talked about the various curricular and extracurricular benefits associated with introducing children (and adults) to the art of raising chickens. Among other applications to the real world, David shed light on how the TCS chicken project and our environmental education program meaningfully realize Common Core standards and prepare students for college and career as they create budgets and write grants in support of teaching and learning ventures at TCS. View David’s full presentation, photos, and notes.

January 24, 2014 Update. The chicks are growing visibly by the day. At about two weeks, we will carefully begin to socialize them. They will be divided up and moved into many of the classrooms.

When the chickens are old enough, they will be moved to a new coop that will be built by our students and additional members of the community. We are in the process of finalizing coop plans and are reaching out to local and national hardware stores to find partners to help us with the material costs. If you are able to contribute labor or supplies, please call the school at 508-839-0038 or email A list of materials needed can be found here.

January 31, 2014 Update. The chicks have taken an exciting step this week.  They have graduated from all living together in the monastic solitude of a quiet study room to the engaging & lively environs of three classrooms.  The OSP, Jane’s class, and Tamara & Todd’s classes are now all taking responsibility for the raising of the chicks.  This week and next the chicks will begin to be socialized to interacting with people.  It was sad to breakup the group and no longer will there be adorable pictures of 15 chicks puppy piled (though it seems dogs should really be said to chick pile), but the students finally have consistent access and responsibility for the chicks.  And isn’t that what it’s 80% about?  (With 20% being reserved for the adorable photos.)

February 7, 2014 Update.   Our 15 charges are happily chirping away in classrooms. Jane, Tamara & Todd, and the OSP each have five chicks. The students are monitoring the water, food, temperature and general happiness of the chicks. They are just about four weeks old and have grown so much they barely resemble the tiny balls of fluff rushed to the school that dark January night. These tiny dinosaurs have wings that look like wings, feathers that look like feathers and, aside from laying eggs, can do everything an adult chicken can. It has been incredible to watch them grow.

The new chicken coop will be built soon. We are looking for help, especially with materials. If you have unused lumber, linoleum flooring, or other materials that might be good for the coop please be in touch. You can always stop me in the hall or e-mail me at  A list of materials needed can be found here.

A photo history of the chicks is here.