The Lakemary Center in Paola has been teaching special needs students since the 1960s. However, it wasn't until recently the school discovered a new cathartic power through the help of chickens.
"We are sort of beginning this pioneering field of chicken therapy, not really sure," joked principal Amanda Martell.
Martell came up with the idea of incorporating farm animals as part of a sensory therapy for students about eight years ago while working on her Masters thesis. She said the timing has now fallen into place. And the addition of on-campus chickens hasn't just been welcomed, but has also positively changed the culture of the school.
"They just provide a calming effect for the kids, and it gives the kids a sense of ownership and responsibly and has a big impact on their behavior," she said.
The students take care of the baby chickens and hens, right now 13 in all. By feeding them, naming them and holding them, the chickens are acting as a sensory therapy that provides a cathartic response for the students, one that can even stop some behaviors before they start.
And the chickens are hopefully just the beginning. Martell envisions an entire ranch-like setting in the near future, complete with a barn, more animals and natural vegetation, something she hopes to call "Lakemary Center Ranch."
"I see this as a very small, sustainable version of almost like a Deanna Rose," she said.
The Lakemary Center currently has around 100 students, including around 60 who live on campus full-time and are from various states across the country. All students have an intellectual disability or developmental disability along with a psychiatric diagnosis.
Josh Helmuth can be reached at email@example.com.