Schools move up the pecking order

Public schools are ruffling feathers at the Royal Easter Show but winning isn’t the only benefit for students. Linda Doherty reports.

Image: Elderslie High School poultry showmanship ribbon holders, from left, Charley Buckley, Juliana Dearnly, Joshua Charlton, Zara Buckley and Rylee Schafer.

The classrooms of Elderslie High School are festooned with winning ribbons from the Royal Easter Show where students have been exhibiting for the past 15 years.

This year the school has again excelled in the poultry competition, brought home a ribbon in the decorated pumpkin category and will show alpacas over the next few days.

The Narellan school has a well-established farm, an award-winning agriculture teacher and enthusiastic students who volunteer before and after school to feed and care for the many ducks, chickens, alpacas and rabbits.

But it’s the intangible benefits to students’ wellbeing and self-confidence that principal Jennifer Lawrence is most proud of.

“It’s public education at its absolute best,” she said.

“We have an extraordinary teacher who gives up her time, on weekends and holidays, to supervise students at agricultural shows so they can demonstrate their animal handling skills.

“I watch my students give of their own time, volunteering before and after school, to feed and care for the animals and I see the boost in self-confidence and the benefits for quieter kids, or some who have anxiety.

“People often complain about ‘the youth of today’; well, this is the other side of the coin. These are students – and their teachers – giving, giving and giving.”

Image: Joshua Charlton presents to a show judge in the poultry showmanship competition.

Five Elderslie High School students took consecutive second to sixth places in the schools’ poultry showmanship category at the Royal Easter Show, having hatched and raised their ducks, chickens and roosters six months ago.

Agriculture coordinator Megan Atkinson said the Year 10 and 11 students had to choose a bird to exhibit and learn how to handle them to keep them calm for judging.

The students had to answer the judge’s questions on stage about characteristics of the breeds, which included Indian Runner ducks, Junglefowl and soft feather birds.

Among a clutch of awards for poultry, Elderslie High School students were first in the layer team competition from 44 school entries, first in the meat bird pair female and second in the meat bird pair male champion.

The school also won champion and reserve champion categories for chickens and waterfowl.

Image: Peak Hill Central School students and staff with their winning poultry entries.

The Royal Easter Show school poultry competitions are always hotly contested. Ducks, geese and chickens were first judged in open competition in 1858, which expanded over the years to include pheasants, quails, turkeys, pigeons and egg production.

On its debut at the show, Peak Hill Central School, near Parkes, enjoyed wins in the Champion Bantam, Waterfowl and School Poultry Exhibit categories.

The school of 150 students posted with pride on its Facebook page: “How great do Mundara, Jacob and John look in their show team uniform . . . The boys have put a tonne of work into these animals . . . Top job by three very capable young men. PHCS should be proud we are represented by them.”

Menai High School dominated the show’s egg category, while Nowra High School won awards for its Rhode Island Red hens and Somerton Public School for its bantams.

Elderslie High School agriculture coordinator Megan Atkinson said the Royal Easter Show was “the pinnacle” in agricultural competitions for the school of 1,000 students.

“The kids just love it, and they work so hard on the farm to prepare the animals for the show,” she said.

“You see quiet students grow in confidence as they have to speak and present to the judges, and the older students train the younger students and take on a mentor role.”

Ms Atkinson received a Minister’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2021, for her 25 years’ experience in teaching agriculture, developing the school’s farm and animal nursery program.

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