Friday, December 18, 2009

Headmaster defends poultry project

Jones-Wilkins lauds educational value of food study

Express Staff Writer

These healthy looking chickens were among 16 raised and later slaughtered for meat this fall in a Community School eighth-grade project about food production. School Headmaster Andy Jones-Wilkins has defended the educational value of the project in the face of criticism from a Virginia-based poultry protection organization. Photo by David N. Seelig

In the face of criticism from a national poultry protection organization, the headmaster of The Community School in Sun Valley has defended an eighth-grade project in which chickens were raised and killed as a "truly exceptional educational experience."

"I put my 100 percent support behind this project," Andy Jones-Wilkins said in an interview. "This poultry project, or food unit as we called it, is a wonderful example of experiential learning."

Jones-Wilkins was responding to criticism from United Poultry Concerns, a Virginia-based animal protection organization that condemned the project after it was publicized in the Idaho Mountain Express in November and more recently in December in a letter to Jones-Wilkins.

Organization President Karen Davis accused the school of child abuse and animal cruelty, threatened possible legal action and demanded that no further projects of the sort be conducted.

The project in question was started in September when the private school's eighth-grade class procured 16 chicks for a study about food production and the benefits of a healthy diet. After raising the birds for seven weeks, an instructor and volunteer students killed and dressed the chickens for a "good foods" banquet.

Teachers Scott Runkel and Naomi Goldberg said the project was designed to give students a better understanding of the origins of their food, particularly meat and poultry products, and to help them learn the benefits of a healthy diet.

Another objective of the study was for the students to publicize what they learned. Jones-Wilkins said that goal was realized far beyond the students' expectations.

"I think an argument could be made that the project got national publicity," Jones-Wilkins said. "Yes, it exceeded their expectations. As a result of the controversy, the educational impact has extended far beyond the actual project. Isn't there a lesson for life there?

"I have compassion for their [United Poultry Concerns'] point of view, but I absolutely stand behind what I thought was a truly exceptional educational experience for the students."

Jones-Wilkins said the school has no immediate plans to repeat the project, but declined to rule out doing it again.

He said he has received overwhelming support for the project from people in the Wood River Valley. Some of them, he said, have volunteered to contribute financially if a legal challenge ever materializes.

Jones-Wilkins, who attended the killing ceremony, emphasized that no students were forced to participate in killing the chickens and that the birds appeared lifeless within 15-20 seconds of having their throats cut.

"I wouldn't characterize it as cruelty," he said.

Terry Smith:

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