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School Notes: Goats Bring National Recognition to Reading Elementary School

  • Sam Mitchell, a Reading Elementary School fifth-grader, heads back to the classroom after helping to feed and water the school’s three goats.  Mitchell’s class brought the goats to school to get rid of a patch of poison ivy. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Sam Mitchell, a Reading Elementary School fifth-grader, heads back to the classroom after helping to feed and water the school’s three goats. Mitchell’s class brought the goats to school to get rid of a patch of poison ivy. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Reading Elementary fifth-graders fill buckets with water for the goats they are taking care of at the school. From left, Abigail Merseal, Kit Oney, Nick Bishop, Nevaeh Sullivan, Hayley Mullins and Sam Mitchell. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Reading Elementary fifth-graders fill buckets with water for the goats they are taking care of at the school. From left, Abigail Merseal, Kit Oney, Nick Bishop, Nevaeh Sullivan, Hayley Mullins and Sam Mitchell. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Reading Elementary School fifth-graders (from right) Kit Oney, Nevaeh Sullivan and Sam Mitchell pull the hose for providing water to the goats in their new pasture at the school. The students won a national award for using the goats to eat poison ivy that grows on school grounds. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Reading Elementary School fifth-graders (from right) Kit Oney, Nevaeh Sullivan and Sam Mitchell pull the hose for providing water to the goats in their new pasture at the school. The students won a national award for using the goats to eat poison ivy that grows on school grounds. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Fifth-graders at Reading Elementary School created an eco-friendly way of removing poison ivy on campus by using goats. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Fifth-graders at Reading Elementary School created an eco-friendly way of removing poison ivy on campus by using goats. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Sam Mitchell, a Reading Elementary School fifth-grader, heads back to the classroom after helping to feed and water the school’s three goats.  Mitchell’s class brought the goats to school to get rid of a patch of poison ivy. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Reading Elementary fifth-graders fill buckets with water for the goats they are taking care of at the school. From left, Abigail Merseal, Kit Oney, Nick Bishop, Nevaeh Sullivan, Hayley Mullins and Sam Mitchell. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Reading Elementary School fifth-graders (from right) Kit Oney, Nevaeh Sullivan and Sam Mitchell pull the hose for providing water to the goats in their new pasture at the school. The students won a national award for using the goats to eat poison ivy that grows on school grounds. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Fifth-graders at Reading Elementary School created an eco-friendly way of removing poison ivy on campus by using goats. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

The fifth-graders at Reading, Vt., Elementary School, all six of them, may be small in number. Yet in developing an eco-friendly solution to removing the poison ivy at their school, they’ve embodied the famous Margaret Mead quote that hangs in their classroom: that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.

That’s not to overlook the efforts of Sadie, Izzy and Happy, the three Boer goats who have consumed the poison ivy leaves on the school playground. But Abigail Merseal, Hayley Mullins, Kit Oney, Nevaeh Sullivan, Nick Bishop and Sam Mitchell evaluated the cost-efficiency and environmental impact of each plan, came up with the idea of using goats, and approached the principal and the Reading School Board for permission to let goats graze on the school grounds.

Not only have the goats gone a long way in eradicating the poison ivy problem, but the fifth-graders’ eco-conscious project contributed to Reading Elementary being named a Green Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. Collins’ class travels to Burlington today to be recognized by Gov. Peter Shumlin as a recipient of the Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence. And the class is currently raising the $4,000 needed for a trip to Washington, D.C., to be recognized with all 64 schools nationwide that received the Green Ribbon designation, awarded to schools that adopt energy efficient and environmentally savvy practices.

Besides the addition of the goats to the school’s ecosystem, Reading has a school garden where vegetables are raised for the cafeteria and food scraps are composted, and the school’s third- and fourth-grade class built a covered bridge over a stream that connects the school to a nearby woodlands area, used for environmental education.

The Green Ribbon designation has given a boost in morale to the small elementary school, which in the past has been targeted for closure.

“It not only validates the importance of the school in our community, it validates the importance of having children in a community school,” said Principal Lou Lafasciano, known as “Dr. Lou” around the school. “That community spirit is alive and well. That’s the kind of school everybody wants their child in.”

The poison ivy problem on the Reading Elementary playground could have been improved with a chemical solution, but that was not a road the fifth-graders wanted to take. “This was a wetland,” said fifth-grader Kit Oney. “And if we put chemicals in there, it would have killed a lot of animals.”

Instead, the students considered several different eradication methods that would not be harmful to the land and creatures around the school, or the students and faculty who spend their days there. They ruled out covering the poison ivy with black plastic, and pouring a vinegar and soapy water solutions and boiling water over the weed. A Google search for “cute ways to eradicate poison ivy” yielded information about using goats, who have special enzymes that allow them to safely eat the plant.

They were further encouraged when Dr. Lou told them that he’d heard on Vermont Public Radio of how Stephen Brooks, the cemetery commissioner in Charlotte, Vt., was deploying goats to ameliorate the poison ivy in the town’s cemeteries. The students took it upon themselves to call Brooks and gather information about implementing a similar program.

Finding a group of goats was no trouble . Malisa Williams, the sister of the third- and fourth-grade teacher at Reading, raises goats, but needed to let her land recover from their grazing for a few months. “She was willing to let her goats go for six weeks in the fall,” said fifth-grader Abigail Merseal. So Sadie, Izzy and Happy found new homes at the Reading Elementary playground, penned in by an electric fence, and with all the poison ivy they could want.

More difficult was compiling their research for a presentation to the Reading School Board, in order to secure permission to bring the goats to the school. They had to figure out what possible arguments board members might raise, and come up with alternate plans in case any part of their proposal was rejected. “It was — how should I put this ...” Sam Mitchell began.

“Nervewracking,” Nick Bishop interjected.

“Good one,” Sam continued. “We were nervous, but we did a good job.” At present, the goats have consumed one-and-a-half acres of poison ivy on the school grounds, and the students have received a grant for $907 from the Woodstock Union High School Foundation to purchase supplies like a goat shelter to keep the goats at the school.

And, if the class manages to raise $4,000 in the coming weeks, they’ll travel to the White House with the other Green Ribbon School recipients; about $3,500 has been raised thus far

“A little class is going to Washington, D.C.,” said fifth-grader Nevaeh Sullivan. “If we were at some other school, this probably would never happen.”

To make that trip happen, though, the class is once again looking to the community to lend a hand. To donate, visit www.razoo.com/story/Green-Goat-5th-Graders-Go-To-Washington.

Achievements

Susannah Howard, a sophomore at Thetford Academy, was accepted to MedQuest 2013, a program at Lyndon State College that exposes students to health care career options through job shadowing and training in medical procedures like CPR. MedQuest 2013 will be held from July 14 to 19.

∎ Yuzhou “Oscar” Lin, a student at Thetford Academy, was named one of nine statewide winners in the Vermont State Mathematics Coalition’s 20th annual Talent Search. Lin was honored with fellow recipients at a dinner in South Burlington last month and is invited to attend the Governor’s Institute in Mathematical Sciences this summer at no charge.

Graduations

Kelsey L. Jordan of Lebanon graduated from Northeastern University with a bachelor’s degree in biology, magna cum laude.

School Notes appears most Tuesdays. Email news and announcements to schoolnotes@vnews.com.