Life cycle lessons for youngest students return to area classrooms

Michael D. Smith
The Daily Ardmoreite
Sponsored by

If the Oak Hall kindergarten classroom falls quiet enough, the faint sound of baby chicks chirping becomes evident. Further inspection of the colorful classroom uncovers a multitude of animals at various stages of the life cycle. 

In an aquarium near the door of Jimmie Wallis’s classroom swim several small, colorful fish. In a small tank near incubators swims a tadpole, and on a bookshelf sit cocoons where butterflies work on growing their wings. In the hallway, a variety of plants sprout under bright grow lights and various eggs, from robins to ostrich, hang on the wall. 

Oak Hall Episcopal School kindergarten teacher Jimmie Wallis is called to an incubator where students noticed another chick hatching from an egg Friday, April 16, 2021.

The kindergarten class at Oak Hall Episcopal school has recently learned about the life cycle and can now proudly say how long chicken eggs take to hatch and how long tadpoles should take to begin growing legs. The unique lessons are thanks to a longtime project that partners teachers with Gerri Ballard from the Carter County OSU Extension Office. 

“We’ve always had school enrichment programs,” said Ballard, 4-H coordinator with the Extension Office. What traditional 4-H programs for middle and high school students can’t provide for the youngest students, Ballard’s chick embryology and plant life cycle classes can. 

Along with the 4-H Cloverbuds – kindergarten, first and second grade students in small groups – these projects targeted at children as young as 3 years old prepare students across the county for what 4-H could offer them later in their education. 

“By introducing myself to them, then they kind of get to know a little bit more about 4-H. Especially at schools like Oak Hall. They don’t have a club leader there. Plainview does, but Plainview is very large,” Ballard said on Friday. 

Ballard is excited to be back in classrooms. Her trips to area schools in the fall were cancelled because of the pandemic but she was able to return to Oak Hall and Plainview schools this spring. Young students at Dickson can expect to begin their projects next week. 

“We’re finally getting back into schools, so it’s been exciting,” she said. 

She was able to connect with student over Zoom video conferencing but said a lima bean dissection just wasn’t the same. Instead of young students making their own discoveries, Ballard had to describe exactly what to look for. 

Oak Hall Episcopal School early childhood students point out plants growing under hallway grow lights Friday, April 16, 2021.

“I like them to discover it. On Zoom it wasn’t quite as effective but their teacher told me they did enjoy it,” she said. 

The chick embryology project goes back to when Ballard started working as the 4-H coordinator about 22 years ago. Her plant life cycle project started about three years ago at Plainview schools and Ballard said many projects and connections across multiple schools have ebbed and flowed over the years. 

“They just kind of come and go with people who know me,” she said. 

Ballard said that many of the projects are made possible by grants that aren’t otherwise available to teachers. For the chick embryology project, she lends out up to 20 incubators at a time and replaces them from wear and tear as resources allow. 

Considering the popularity of the two projects, Ballard expects them to continue even after her eventual retirement and even said volunteering with successors and teachers could always be an option. 

“Students aren’t all able to sit in a classroom and just listen and fill out papers and take tests. They learn different ways.”