A tale of six ducks, two ponds and a creative high school teacher

At Seagoville High School, a creative—and quacking—solution to a problem with the school’s ponds has led to a unique learning experience for students and a renewed sense of community at the campus.

Dereck Enderle, an equine science and small animal management teacher, decided to introduce raising ducks as his students’ project for small animal management this spring. Then, Enderle noticed that they were having a moss issue in the two school ponds—one of which is approximately two acres. Moss is detrimental to the health and biodiversity of ponds.

Dredging is a way to eliminate moss from ponds, but it’s expensive, so Enderle asked the students how they could help. The students determined that the ducks’ diet is mainly plant-based and predicted that the ducks they were raising as a class project would help eliminate the moss not only by eating it as part of their diet, but also by swimming in the ponds to stir the water and prevent it from spreading. 

They also researched duck behavior and stages of growth, as well as the balance of predator and prey relationships such as dogs, coyotes and  turtles versus the ducks.

“The students get to experience the whole gamut of raising to releasing the ducks, and once a week or so we’ll go out there and monitor them, and in doing so, we’re caring for the ducks and the pond,” Enderle said. The  students have taken an interest in caring for the ducks and the pond and use fishing nets to get trash out of the pond. 

“We’ve seen the trash subside, and there’s now more awareness and a sense of pride among students,” Enderle said. 

As part of Enderle’s small animal management class, students normally hatch chickens from eggs but couldn’t find any duck eggs. Instead, the school bought day-old duck hatchlings for the students to raise. The students raised the ducks in an area with wire—which Enderle describes as similar to a dog kennel—to keep them while they were babies until they were old enough to be released, which was approximately five to six weeks.

The students loved the hands-on approach, charted their growth and were amazed at how quickly the ducklings grew, Enderle said. A  total of six classes had a duck each and gave them gender neutral names as they were unsure of the sex of the bird at first. All the ducks have colored bands on their legs, so students are able to identify which duck belongs to their class. 

Enderle said that most of his students were sophomores, so when students come back next school year, it will be exciting for them to see when the ducks migrate and if they come back. 

To let fellow team members know about the ducks, Enderle sent out an email about the project. He also discouraged feeding the ducks bread, as it’s bad for them. Enderle keeps a 50-pound bag of feed in his portable, which has encouraged a couple of fellow teachers to grab cups of food and take their classes out to the pond to feed the ducks. 

What started out as a class project has motivated the school community to collaborate, as a few of the other teachers have taken the initiative to help clean the pond out to make the habitat a little bit cleaner for the ducks. Enderle has also seen a decrease in the amount of trash that ends up in the ponds. Because of the success of the program, Enderle plans to continue this project next year and beyond. 

Enderle has a long history with the school. He is the former assistant principal over the agriculture department. As a member of the U.S. National Guard, he went to Kuwait last year, and when he came back, some positions had changed.  Enderle said he could have taken an assistant principal job at another campus but decided to return to the classroom after an eight-year break from teaching. It’s a decision he is happy he made, he said, because he thoroughly enjoys working with his students and the impact that his classes have on them

One impact he has seen is a change in how students approach group projects—a skill that many had lost during the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Raising the ducks and seeing how they can be an integral part of the health of the ecosystem is the kind of project that got them involved and working together.

“We have a living thing here that we’re taking care of, and we’re making sure it’s got food and water and we’re cleaning out its area,” Enderle said. “Giving students that awareness piece of something other than themselves, and seeing that engagement piece and them looking forward to coming into class, has been worth these efforts.” 

Internal Communications editorial board member and Seagoville High School teacher, Robin Messerschmitt, suggested and contributed to this story. 

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