News / Ottawa

St. Pat’s High parenting class is just ducky

Students raise ducklings for a week in new test project.

Kaliopi Konstantakakos, 17, a Grade 12 student at St. Patrick’s Catholic High School, holds Daisy, the duckling she adopted for a week as part of a unique parenting course offered at the school this semester.

Erin McCracken/Metroland Media

Kaliopi Konstantakakos, 17, a Grade 12 student at St. Patrick’s Catholic High School, holds Daisy, the duckling she adopted for a week as part of a unique parenting course offered at the school this semester.

Kaliopi Konstantakakos gingerly places her adopted charge on the floor outside of her second-floor classroom.

She walks away down the hall, glancing back as she calls to Daisy. The fluffy golden duckling quickly skedaddles behind her human mother, her wings flapping as she tries to keep up.

The hallway at St. Patrick’s Catholic High School is filled with the sound of peeping birds as students in the Grade 11 Raising Healthy Children class demonstrate how their feathered babies have already imprinted on their human moms and dads.

“She won’t eat if I’m not near her,” Kaliopi said, adding that Daisy also prefers to sleep with her at night instead of in her cardboard box.

The Grade 12 student added the parenting class to her schedule this year out of a desire to gain experience she will need to one day open her own daycare. The 17-year-old is one of nine students who signed up for the week-long duckling pilot project.

The hands-on parenting experiment – a first for St. Pat’s – began Sept. 14, the day after the ducks hatched from their eggs at Mariposa Farm in Plantagenet, Ont., located east of Ottawa.

Teacher Julie Slinger was inspired to try out the idea thanks to a similar experience she had as a student in a high school biology class. She felt her own students would benefit more from caring for ducklings than a programmed doll typically used in the parenting class.

“They don’t show a true realistic idea,” Slinger said.

DEDICATED PARENTS

So far feedback from students has shown Slinger made the right decision.

The teens have embraced providing round-the-clock-care, feeding and cleaning up after their babies, making sure they’re tucked in at night, and taking them everywhere – on the bus to and from school, carting them to their classes and bringing them while running errands.

Over the course of the week, the students measure and weigh their ducklings daily, and chronicle their experiences in a journal. Similar to parents with their infants, the teens have been comparing parenting notes with each other.

“You can hear them talking: ‘She did this yesterday,’ and back and forth,” said Slinger. “It’s definitely the desired effect that I wanted to get.”

The course has been creating a buzz outside the class too.

“I’m hearing these little rumours now that everyone in Grade 10 wants to take parenting next year,” Slinger said with a laugh.

It’s been an eye-opening experience for the teens.

“It shows us what it’s like to have a real child, except that it’s a duck,” Kaliopi said.

Nearby, her classmate Brooke-Lynn Dillabough gently shushes her loudly peeping duckling. She instantly quiets down.

“She is a handful,” the 16-year-old Grade 11 student said. “She turns off my phone if I’m in the middle of a call. And she’s really loud.”

Being a mother to a newborn requires loads of patience, said Brooke-Lynn, a Billings Bridge resident.

“It really tires you out too,” she said, adding that the second night was rough when her duckling, Charlotte, woke her up at 1 a.m.

For Nick Falsetto, 16, who is the only dad in the group, the nights were a breeze but travelling with his little bird via city bus proved more challenging. The Grade 11 student wasn’t always permitted to get on board the bus when they headed off to school.

“It was complicated at first but now it works,” the Greenboro resident said, adding that some of his male friends recently joined the class because of the duckling project.

And he can see why. “This is really fun,” he said, watching his duckling feed from a dish in its cardboard box.

Grade 11 student Destiny Williams was pleasantly surprised, but also nervous, when she found out she could care for a duckling rather than a mechanical doll.

“I was kind of like, ‘Am I really ready for this kind of responsibility?” said the 16-year-old, who decided to take the class because her mom is an early childhood educator and Destiny is considering following in her footsteps one day.

INITIAL RESERVATIONS

Despite her initial hesitation, the experience proved rewarding for Destiny, though she said there is some work involved, such as picking up after her non-potty-trained duckling, named Boo.

“You’re kind of running behind them with the Kleenex box,” she said with a smile.

Within days of the adoption, the Hunt Club resident said she quickly became attached to her feathered infant.

“I get worried if someone is holding her or someone’s touching her,” said Destiny.

And that means it will be difficult giving her up so she can continue her life back on Mariposa Farm, come Sept. 21 – something all of the students are feeling.

“Even if it’s just Day Two, I feel like I’ve done so much to keep her going,” Destiny said.

Still, she would recommend the parenting class to anyone considering taking it.

“You learn so much,” she said. “Really, what can you not get from this class?”