Students at one Atherton high school are getting a chance to take a break from sitting in classrooms, and instead take in fresh air and bond with animals while they learn.
Sacred Heart Schools boasts a unique feature: its own farm. Goats, rabbits, turkeys, chickens, ducks and other animals live on the SHS Farm, which has a small barn, four connected animal pens and a chicken coop. Students even learn how to milk goats, then turn the milk into soap in the school's makers lab.
Julia McDonald, a Latin teacher and farm animal caretaker at Sacred Heart, brought the idea to the school about three years ago. McDonald, who is in her 22nd year of teaching at Sacred Heart, was searching for a creative solution for what to do with excess milk from goats on the school's farm when she discovered soap making during a visit to The Nova Studio in Richmond. Soap making is now a year-round project at the school, based on demand.
Students and staff make about 100 bars of soap for the annual SHS Holiday Boutique. They also sell soap, along with produce from the garden, at school events.
Soap making is among the activities in a junior level "Sustainable Agriculture" class. Students run goats from the farm to the pasture next to the garden, an exciting and chaotic experience, students in the class said.
They also demonstrate to younger students how to make the soap. This year, a new project has launched -- felted-wool soap bars, in which the soap is encased in wool hand-felted by the students.
Junior Georgia Behrens, who plans to major in animal science in college, said the class is the best part of her day.
"It's fun to get to hang out in a relaxing environment," she said. "It's no stress and relaxing being able to listen to music and hang out."
Farm work, and just being outside in general, is a welcome break from the daily routine for students, said Doyle Pitchford, the school's sustainability coordinator.
The farm work "exposes them (students) to things they wouldn't otherwise understand: where their food comes from," he said. "In suburban modern life, people have lost touch with using their hands. (The students) start uncoordinated with tools, but you see a rapid improvement."
The soap is made by combining a lye solution with water and about 18 ounces of goat milk per batch of 15 to 18 bars, using two differently sized molds. Soap ingredients include coconut oil, palm oil, canola oil, olive oil, vitamin E oil and essential oils.
It takes an hour and a half to make a batch of soap, which then cures for a month to six weeks to harden.
For more on Sacred Heart's farm, go here.