(Editor’s note: this is part one of a two-part story about Paul Revere Middle School Agricultural teacher. Today the story centers around the animals, tomorrow about dealing with food waste in an agricultural setting.)
Carrie Robertson, who has worked at Paul Revere Charter Middle School since 2011, was named the “Outstanding Educator of the Year” by the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom in December.
Robertson received a Literacy for Life grant, and $500 to fund a worm bin project, “Urban Worms: Food Waste Warriors” plus an additional $1,000 for other projects.
During the winter break, Circling the News stopped by to visit the Farm, a two-acre parcel on campus, that is surrounded by multi-million-dollar homes. Planning on a short trip to learn more about worm bins, this editor came away in wonderment after several hours at the farm. This is the only middle or high school campus on the westside that teaches horticulture or animal husbandry.
The animals, 11 chickens, five goats, a Flemish giant rabbit, two chinchillas, a pot-bellied pig and three guinea pigs came running to see the editor. All were rescues except for the chickens.
“They miss the students,” Robertson said and added that during the lunch hour between 100 and 150 students come the northernmost area of the campus to help care for the animals and hold them. Students also come to the area, which provides a meditative area to be with nature.
“These animals matter to the kids and students, who are in charge of all aspects of animal care,” said Robertson, the school’s agriculture teacher. More than 500 students, annually rotate through her classes in farming, gardening and animal science.
Robertson works with place-based education, which means using the local community and environment as a starting point to teach concepts across the curriculum.
“I was just teaching about P22 two weeks ago,” she said. “The news about him is devastating.”
The animal area underwent remodeling in 2019 in order that the kids could learn best practices for animals which include the five freedoms: 1) freedom from hunger and thirst; 2) freedom from discomfort; 3) freedom from pain, injury and disease; 4) freedom to express normal behavior; and 5) freedom from fear and distress.
Animal behavior included the goat “Billy” letting this editor know with a little shove that her place was behind him following Robertson through the yard and garden.
Students have built several enrichment “toys” for the animals, which are hung in cages. The focus on the enclosures is to keep the stress levels low.
The animals are shut up at night to protect them from predators, such as coyotes, bobcats and owls.
Pest-proof track cans were installed and “That was a huge change that had to happen,” Robertson said.
Robertson also receives help during school breaks from Alejandro Juanillo, a local horse expert, who works at the stables across Sunset.
Parents help with financial support for the farm, and “This school community and administration is so supportive,” she said. Parents donations help pay for the animal feed.
One goal is to create and teach regenerative farming to students, who planted Bermuda grass by the cages and this semester planted rye grass and buckwheat and clover.
“The pasture is cooling and retains water. Once it was established, we haven’t had to water,” Robertson said, and noted that initially it was student leaders in the animal science lunch program, who monitored its growth. “The kids were protective of the grass and took ownership.
“I’m proud of my students, they do the right thing,” said Robertson, who lives in the San Fernando Valley. She grew up on her father’s cattle ranch in Agoura Hills and raised pigs and cattle while at Canoga Park High School, later graduating from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a degree in animal science.