It’s a bittersweet opportunity for Marshall High School senior Aubrey Schlimgen. After working for several years to secure funding and permission from the village, her time getting used to the E. Peck Animal Agriculture Learning Center was limited.
“I’m glad we’re able to use this before I leave,” she said. “And it will be here for the future kids and that’s important.”
The 36’ x 48’ outdoor facility is located just behind the high school and adjacent to the rear parking lot. The structure was completed last year, but students hadn’t been able to use it until the second semester of the 2020-2021 school year.
Schlimgen said having the lab is “amazing” and allows the students the hands on experience they desired.
“You’re always learning in the classroom, you’re always learning on paper, but it’s nothing compared to actually being in the moment and being with the animals and getting that hands on experience,” the senior said.
The hands-on experience has been pivotal for students who are looking at agriculture or animal-related careers. For example, the senior said in previous years the veterinary science class would practice giving injections on oranges. This year, the students administered vaccines to pigs.
“It’s good practice for us and it’s good for the animals since they need these shots,” she said.
Currently the learning center is home to purchased laying hens, broiler chickens, and a pair of feeder pigs named Thumper and Fern. Schlimgen said the hope is for the agriculture department to eventually breed its own fowl.
According to the senior, the chickens are in the facility year round and since students were not able to regularly be on school property, Athletic Director Matt Kleinheinz was gracious enough to help care for the fowl.
With the students back in the school building, Bakken hopes to have them tend to the chickens in the afternoons, which includes feeding, watering, and cleaning. The teacher hopes to have a scheduled rotation for students to take care of the animals when the next school year gets underway.
“We’re still settling in after COVID,” Bakken said. “We’re just gearing up.”
Beside animals that stay at the learning lab for a longer period of time, larger animals are able to come to the facility for specific lessons or events. The agriculture department had planned on hosting a learning day for kindergarten and fourth grade students two weeks ago; unfortunately, rainy conditions deterred the visitors but goats and bovines were on hand for the event.
“Some kids don’t know where their food comes from, they think it just comes from the (store) shelves,” Bakken said. “This way they can learn about the animals that become food.”
In addition to hands-on learning, the animal lab has provided a bit of money for the program. Eggs laid by the hens are sold online. Bakken said those funds are used to purchase more feed for the animals.
The process of building the agriculture learning lab started in 2017 – the same year Schlimgen entered high school. By 2019, the Marshall FFA and agriculture department had, through fundraisers and donations, earned $61,494.04, exceeding the goal of $55,000 yet falling short of the overall project cost of $78,342. The school district agreed to chip in the difference with the understanding the funds would be paid back.
After gaining an animal ordinance exemption from the village, ground was broken in August 2019. It was anticipated the structure would be completed in the fall with interior work being done in 2020. The E. Peck Animal Agriculture Learning Center would be ready to host students for the 2020-2021 school year.
The learning lab, several years in the making, was finally going to be a reality.
However, after COVID-19, the new reality was that while the structure was ready, students were not allowed in district facilities after Gov. Tony Evers in March 2020 ordered all schools to close for the remainder of the year.
The Marshall School District then began the most recent school year by having the high school students attend classes online until February.
“(Bakken) would send us videos of the chickens and say they missed us,” Schlimgen said.
“They did get excited when people were here,” the agriculture teacher said.
The students are enjoying having access to the space and being able to use it as part of their education.
Schlimgen may have been in her final year of high school, bus she offered what she would like to see offered in the future.
“It would be great if we could you our grant money to set up some stations with microscopes and dip more into the ag science because that’s something we’d love to expand,” she said. “I think that’s something we really want to touch on some day.”