Kahnawake students learn life skills by raising chickens, doing farm chores

An alternative school in Kahnawake, Que., has found a creative way to get its students to learn: get them to be self-sufficient by planting gardens, raising chickens and building a barn.

History assignment turns into 3-year project at First Nations Regional Adult Education Centre

Justin Prince says he loves to work in the greenhouse, which was built by his classmates, and take care of the vegetable plants. (CBC)

An alternative school in Kahnawake, Que., is turning to old Mother Nature to teach its students life skills.

Students plant vegetable gardens, raise chickens, tend beehives and even design and build the chicken coops and barn on the site.

It started off as an open-ended history assignment for students at First Nations Regional Adult Education Centre, but it turned into a three-year project.

Everything on the grounds of the adult centre was built and maintained by the students — including the barn.

"It's western style. It took me a year of planning," said student Travis Deer.

Travis Deer, a student at First Nations Regional Adult Education Centre, spent a year planning this western-style barn behind him. (CBC)
The assignment was designed to help students understand how the people of Kahnawake have historically leaned on one another. It evolved into how they can help themselves and eventually give back again.

"Over the past two years, we helped an elder cut his wood. We helped someone winterize their apple trees," said teacher Kanerahtiio Hemlock.

"We give them a general idea of what we're doing but it's up to them to figure out how to make it work."

Besides the barn, a chicken coop was built and then a greenhouse went up.

Everything on the site was built by the students, including the chicken coop, the barn and the greenhouse. Students also take care of the soil and compost. (CBC)
"We're growing vegetables, mostly greens. That's what we're doing here," said student Justin Prince.

"We put together the chicken coop on really hot days but it was really worth it," said Deer.

As part of the project, students raise chickens on the grounds. (CBC)
The students also compost, and take care of bees at an off-site location.

They collectively decide whether to maintain, sell or donate their projects.

Teachers say that in addition to being self sufficient, their students are learning to work in a team and problem-solve.

"They've figured out how they can take notes that will make sense to them, they've figured out how they can remember things their way," said teacher Kathleen Yates.

For Deer, the ongoing project has inspired him to think about a possible career in farming.