Chirping in the library

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Every spring, the quiet library at Angelus Academy in Springfield becomes a little noisier as dozens of chicks poke out of their shells to the delight of students. For 10 years, librarian Jodi Shlesinger has placed several incubators amidst the books and taught the students how to care for the eggs and then the baby chickens.

"I love seeing the kids learn hands-on. They have a natural curiosity and it's always different in each child," said Shlesinger.

As a mother, Shlesinger liked to expose her children to nature, whether it was catching butterflies and praying mantises or milking cows and slopping pigs at a local farm. In their own home they constructed an incubator and raised chicks every year.

"We (kept the chicks) until they got their wings because there was a time or two we came home to dozens of chickens flying around my house," she said. When she started working at Angelus, the chicks came with her.

Last year they had five dozen chicken eggs and a dozen duck eggs, most of which hatched, she said. The students learn responsibility by turning the eggs over, which has to be done three times a days, said Shlesinger. They learn biology when she illuminates the eggs, allowing the children to see the growing blood vessels, and later the tiny embryo moving inside. With money from a grant, she hopes to teach the older children engineering by making new incubators.

When the chicks finally hatch, the children learn to take care of God's creatures, said Shlesinger. "They all love fuzzy little chicks and they love to hold them," she said. "Some preschoolers are afraid and touch them with one finger, but eventually they end up holding them at their own speed."

One of Shlesinger's favorite moments was watching a class spontaneously burst into "Happy Birthday" as a chick cracked out of its shell. Shlesinger hopes to be able to live stream the hatchings to the classrooms so everyone can witness them.

Another memorable moment was when the students named the chicks after the three priests who worked with the students, and then made tiny priest collars for the chicks to wear.

What started as a life cycle experiment for the second grade has evolved into a yearly project all the teachers and students look forward to. At every age they take something different away, she said. "It's fun to see them each year pick up a new piece."

Di Mauro can be reached at zdimauro@catholicherald.com or on Twitter @zoeydimauro.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016