Leigha Sutton holds a newly hatched chick at Brookfield Elementary School. Sky O'Donnell, at right, runs the elementary school's afterschool program for Youngstown State University.

Leigha Sutton holds a newly hatched chick at Brookfield Elementary School. Sky O’Donnell, at right, runs the elementary school’s afterschool program for Youngstown State University.

Before Sky O’Donnell handed the days’ old chick to Austin Farrand, Austin said he was afraid the chick wouldn’t like him.

As Austin, a Brookfield second-grader, cradled the chick in his hands, it was hard to tell what the chick was feeling. It squirmed and looked around. Austin said it felt warm.

Holding the chick was the best part of the weeks’ long process of placing chicken eggs in an incubator, using a light held against an egg to see the embryo inside, watching the chicks break through the shells, and then monitoring the hatched chicks as they scrambled about their enclosure pecking at dry chick food, drinking water and bumping into and climbing over each other, he said.

“I liked it,” Austin said of the process. “I loved it.”

Leigha Sutton, a-fourth grader, said holding the chick was “like holding a baby, but different.”

The eggs were brought to school as part of the afterschool program Youngstown State University runs at Brookfield Elementary School. O’Donnell, a certified teacher, is the teacher of the program, which is funded by a federal 21st Century Community Learning Grant funneled through the Ohio Department of Education.

YSU, which also runs programs in Girard and Lordstown, partnered with the Trumbull County office of the Ohio State University Extension for the “Chick Quest” program, and the eggs were donated by a local farm, where the chicks were returned to live out their days. The extension office provided the incubator, heat lamp, food and feeders, and Ashlee Meardith, extension educator for 4-H youth development, spent time with the students throughout the process.

Julie O'Brien, Brookfield Elementary fourth grader, cradles a newly hatched chick at the school's afterschool program.

Julie O’Brien, Brookfield Elementary fourth grader, cradles a newly hatched chick at the school’s afterschool program.

This was the first year “Chick Quest” had been done in Brookfield.

“We thought this would be interesting for the kids,” said O’Donnell, who livestreamed the hatching process on YouTube. 

Alyssa Malcomson, a second-grader, said she had never been around chicks before and found it “pretty cool.”

The afterschool program runs five days a week and serves 17 students in grades one through four, who are asked to attend at least three days a week, O’Donnell said. The kids get a snack and do activities in a work book and on tablet computers. The program focuses on reading and math skills, and tries to push the students beyond their grade level.

Most days, the students hear from a speaker and do an activity. YSU exercise students have come into class to run the kids through physical fitness activities. Other speakers have included healthcare professionals, veterinary technicians and a representative of the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition.

The program strives to bolster what the school already is doing, O’Donnell said.

“We also work on social skills,” he said. “We try to give them a different experience from what they get in a typical school day.”

The students get to go to OH WOW! The Roger and Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science and Technology in Youngstown, and Barnes and Noble in Boardman, where they can pick out a book to take home.

Students often go home with games, books and activity sets, and there are family nights. The students also can participate in a field trip-heavy, one-month summer program.

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