• Reading students recognized for innovative poison ivy removal project: goats
     | April 30,2013

    Vyto Starinskas / Staff Photo Abby Mersea, Hayley Mullins, Kit Oney, and Nick Bishop, left to right, tend to their poison ivy eating goats at the Reading Elementary School on Monday.

    READING — Fifth-grade teacher Patricia Collins has three new kids in her class — Izzy, Happy and Sadie. But they’re not your average students. In fact, they never come in from lunch.

    The three new additions are goats, acquired by Reading Elementary School to help with the school’s pesky poison ivy problem. They spend their days munching on the itchy ivy, while students learn a lesson in sustainability and problem-solving.

    Poison ivy was a major concern at the school so Collins gave her students a service learning project in which they would work together on an environmental issue in a group setting. Collins instructed students to find a cost effective and environmentally sustainable means to get rid of the problem.

    So the fifth graders used their ingenuity and came up with the now quirky but reliable goat solution.

    “We’re hoping our idea will spread and rub off on others,” fifth grader Nick Bishop said.

    Collins estimated there was 7,500 square feet of poison ivy on school grounds. The students did the research and discovered that goats can be used as an environmentally friendly means for plant removal.

    Now the class will be honored by Gov. Peter Shumlin and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for solving an environmental problem by using innovative, unorthodox means.

    “We analyzed all of our solutions and it came down to the goats,” Collins said. “(The students) laughed and said, ‘We’ll never be able to do that,’” she added.

    But it turns out, where there’s a will there’s a “neah.”

    The fifth-grade class was awarded the Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence and was named a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School for their poison ivy eradication service learning project. The class will be recognized for their efforts at the Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility conference in May and will be honored in Washington, D.C., in early June according to Collins.

    “Their dedication to working through whatever challenges they have and their willingness to work it through was incredible,” Collins said.

    Fifth grader Sam Mitchell said goats are immune to poison ivy and are prone to eating small plant stems. His classmates were surprised by their discovery. He said Izzy, Happy and Sadie have made a positive impact in ways they didn’t expect.

    “It’s pretty much gone,” Sam said. “Out of the solutions we came up with, goats weren’t the big front runner. But we learned they weren’t harmed by eating poison ivy and it really paid off.”

    According to Collins, the fifth grade class operated on a $12 budget and the class was responsible for finding goats, fencing and volunteer work.

    The students turned to the community for help. Collins said a local agronomist came in and analyzed potential hazards, a local veterinarian offered help in case of emergencies, and a local farmer donated shelter materials.

    Izzy, Happy and Sadie are on school grounds surrounded by an electrified fence built by the class. The students take care of them during recess and parents and community members help out on the weekends.

    Collins said her students have learned new skills in environmental sustainability, finding cost effective means for preserving the environment, and the benefits of group work, all of which will be invaluable for them once they graduate.

    “They now know how to work cooperatively and make a difference. What’s even more remarkable is sustainability is in their vernacular as well,” Collins said.

    To learn more about their award-winning sustainability project visit www.readingecogoats.shutterfly.com.


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