All photos taken by La Paz parent Sean Norton
Raising Pigs in Costa Rica
My daughter’s class is raising pigs! Since moving to Costa Rica our lives have certainly been different, we were not raising pigs back in Pasadena, that’s for sure! But different was the reason we came, Harris and I both want our kids to understand the world and how it works, and not just by reading about it in a text book.
My children go to La Paz Community School in Costa Rica and when McKenna told me that she needed to bring something to school for a healthy treat sale, I asked her what the money was going to be used for. She told me, “So, we can buy pigs.” Why are you buying pigs? “For our Anchor Project!”
I had never heard about Anchor Projects before so I was curious to know more. Not only about the Anchor Project but where this idea came, and how or what they will learn from it. I also wanted to be able to articulate to other people why my daughter is raising pigs in Costa Rica. Sure it sounds cool, but what was is the main goal and the purpose?
What is the Anchor Project?
The Anchor Project has many moving parts, but with science at the core, it is looking at how the energy and nutrient cycles work together on the La Paz campus. Each class is assigned a Anchor Project and the students will all be responsible for the planning and execution of their project. They all have assigned weekly tasks and each class will be writing a blog for their Anchor Projects.
3rd grade – Recycling
4th grade – Gardening
5th grade – Raising two pigs
6th grade – Raising chickens
7th grade – Reforesting trees “Vivero”
8th grade – Energy
Tuesday is the official Anchor Project Day on the La Paz campus.The entire school takes time in the morning to work on their individual Anchor Projects at the same time. We save all our recycling at home so Hudson can bring it in every Tuesday and participate in sorting and cleaning all the recycling on campus. Parents are also welcome to come participate and see the Anchor Projects in action.
Hands On Learning at La Paz
The Anchor Project is hands on learning that involves teamwork, planning, research, implementation, addressing challenges, and overcoming problems. The Anchor Project is, of course, guided by the teachers but all decisions are made by the students. There are generally five key stages of the Anchor Project.
Step 1: Inquiry
They started asking themselves, what do we need to know and what are the essential questions that need to be asked? For instance, with the 5th grade Pig project, “Should we get pigs on campus?”, “Are there energy flows and nutrient cycles involved?”, “What are the educational and environmental benefits?” “Are there financial benefits?”, and so on.
Step 2: Research
The classes went on field trips to gather information and learn about what materials and items they would need in order to accomplish their Anchor Project goals and be successful. When researching and discussing raising pigs, the students learned that their project is a bit controversial. When I asked their teacher, Brian Crites, about this he said;
“La Paz does not shy away from controversy. With over 25 different nationalities represented, differences are the norm and we celebrate those differences. Collaborative projects like these give us a platform to model an open-minded approach to sharing our perspectives in a respectful way as we strive to have a deeper level of cultural empathy. Students need to be able to navigate through those challenges and have those discussions. They discussed, at length, what they will do with the pigs. Their options were to sell them when they are at market weight, keep them, eat them, or not get them at all. Right now, they want to sell both pigs and reinvest in new piglets, but have an option at the end of the project to have the experience of eating food that they have actually raised as opposed to buying neatly packaged at the store. Students, of course, have the option to opt out of this project if it goes against their beliefs and values.”
Step 3: Action Plan
How do we implement the project? The students decide on all aspects of the project and have to work as a team, divide up the work and keep everyone accountable. For the 5th grade pig project, the students divided themselves up into five teams; the shelter team, the species / life cycle team, the food / water team, the excrement / compost team, and the daily health team.
Step 4: Maintaining/Experiential Learning
Maintaining the project over the course of an entire school year requires grit and determination, two qualities that current researchers are showing are important indicators for future success of our students. And of course, at the heart of it all, the experiential learning that happens along the way is meaningful and authentic for the students.
Step 5: Reflecting/Sharing
Being able to reflect on the process and share their learning experiences with the greater community are important parts of the year-long journey. By having the students write a blog and post about their Anchor Projects they are able to track their progress and share it with the world. Visit the PigStyle Blog. Students will also showcase their hard work at an Open House towards the end of the year with La Paz parents and community members.
What do the kids think about the Anchor Project?
I stopped by to talk to some of the students on Anchor Project Tuesday and this is what a few of them had to say…
What do you like about your Anchor Project and what have you learned so far?
I like the Anchor Project because it’s not like other schools where the teachers do everything, we’re actually doing most of it, we’re doing all the research, we’re raising all the money, organizing the raffle and so it’s fun! They’re letting us be responsible. – Marissa 6th grade
The pigs really like to eat banana leaves, so then when the pigs poop, it goes into the composter, then the soil goes back into the banana leaves, and it creates a cycle. We’re learning about the pigs poop and decomposing and how we need a fair amount of nitrogen and oxygen to make the compost. – Noah 5th grade
I’ve learned that there is a bunch of different types of chickens, some lay eggs that hatch chicks, some are just to eat and some don’t lay eggs. There are so many things you need to do for chickens. I just never thought there was so much you need to know to raise chickens. – Grace 6th grade
What is your Anchor Projects biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge right now is getting our project approved by Mr Abel. He came in and asked us a bunch of questions, and we didn’t have the answers, so we have to find out as much information as we can. It’s really hard to be organized, because we want to do all these things at once, but we can’t so we have to take it step by step. – Marissa 6th grade
Right now we don’t have anything for the chicken’s to live in. So we need to raise money so we can build a chicken coop. – Grace 6th grade
Well, the poop.There is poop all over the pen and you try not to step in it, and when you clean up the poop, you put it in the composter and you come back and there’s more poop! – Noah 5th grade
Why do you think the Anchor Project is important?
I think the Anchor Project is important because, it keeps our campus clean and sustainable. We’re recycling, gardening, raising chickens and pigs and it’s a cool way to show that our school is unique and that we care about the Earth. I also think working in these teams brings our classes closer together and brings the school closer together to try to make all these projects work. – Grace 6th grade
It’s getting us ready for our lives, after college and stuff. Maybe we’ll have a house and we’ll need money and maybe we’ll have a school of our own and this will be a great idea for our school. – Marissa 6th grade
It’s helping the Earth stay clean with all the composting, the gardening and the recycling – Noah 5th grade
The La Paz Anchor Project Fundraiser
$1,000 – Energy Team (Solar Panels, pump for blackwater treatment)
$600 – Chicken Coop (chickens, hen house, fencing, feed)
$400 – Greenhouse (construction materials, gardening tools)
$300 – Raising Pigs (piglets, feed, fencing)
$250 – 2 Compost Tumblers (barrel, stand)
$200 – Recycling Station (storage area, sink, gloves)
Total Anchor Project Fundraising Goal = $2,750
La Paz is recognized as a non-profit association in Costa Rica as well as designated project of a 501(c)(3) registered non-profit organization in the United States. As a result, donations made in both countries are tax deductible.
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