By Mariana Lachiusa, UMass Sustainable Food & Farming student (Junior)
This past semester I got the opportunity to intern at the Hartsbrook School in Hadley, Massachusetts. I walked into this independent study with very little experience working with kids and animals, and no experience working in a school setting with both. I was immediately intrigued by the pedagogy of Waldorf education, and equally inspired by the way the children related to their environment through the use of practical agriculture and animal husbandry as part of their education. I went to Hartsbrook twice a week and worked side by side with the Agricultural Arts teacher Miss Nicki Robb, and the other UMass intern, Sarah Visnick. I helped with the 6th graders on one afternoon, and on the other day assisted with the 8th grade beekeeping class in the morning, and then the 7th graders in the afternoon. Considering I never thought I would want to work with middle schoolers, it was a good experience with a challenging, yet rewarding age group. In the beekeeping class, each student had their own bee suit so that everyone could enter into the beehives instead of just watching. It was truly amazing to watch the bubbly and energetic eighth graders enter into the realm of the bees and completely change.
They learned early on that the bees can sense their energy and are much more difficult if the children can’t gain control over their actions. This simple lesson in grounding themselves and learning to be still is more powerful than any scolding to sit still in their seats ever could be. The students learn the connection between their actions and the outcomes with this activity in a way that they couldn’t learn in a classroom. With the 6th and 7th graders we did a variety of tasks from broadcasting winter rye as a cover crop over their garden, to building a compost pile, to learning seed saving, and doing animal chores. The Hartsbrook School has a variety of animals: 2 donkeys, several goats, a flock of sheep, 2 cows, approximately 10 chickens, and one rabbit named Lulu.
It felt like most of my time I was doing the animal chores with the kids. Each grade had a different animal to take care of, and did the chores twice a day, and were responsible for feeding them, giving them water, grooming them, and mucking out the pens. Most of the children did these chores with enthusiasm and excitement, and held each other responsible for making sure everything got done. Another moment where the children learned responsibility and accountability without thinking twice about it. It was clear to them that if they didn’t take care of the animals, then they would suffer and the children were too attached to them to let that happen.
I discovered a year ago that I am passionate about teaching. I “discovered” this when I took an education class that changed my idea of what education was; it didn’t have to be the way I was used to experiencing it in my public school upbringing. Thanks to this independent study at Hartsbrook, I have further ignited my passion for teaching, and learned more about the Waldorf education style and values, which is a method of education I intend to study further. I am the kind of person that learns best by doing, and I now have a much better understanding of how to take care of animals, and also more examples of teaching styles to add to my toolbox for wherever my future teaching career takes me.