Originally Published: November 12, 2018 7:30 p.m.
At the Circle L Ranch on Friday morning, 37 Northpoint Middle School seventh and eighth-graders from Prescott toured and cleaned portions of the Prescott Valley-based animal rescue sanctuary on Coyote Springs Road.
The excursion is part of the new charter school’s weekly expeditionary lessons that combine enrichment adventures with community outreach.
On this day, the students were divided into three groups, all participating in various aspects of farm life. They all rotated between cleaning out the petting zoo, touring the farm, and then penning poetry and drawing sketches about this ranch that is home to aging race horses, a trio of donkeys, goats, ducks, domestic and exotic birds, pigs, turkeys, dogs, even one very noisy goose, Heidi. To mention a few.
Assistant ranch manager Stacey Derington – who knows all the animals by name and quirks - explained Heidi is very particular about the cleanliness of the petting zoo. Each day, she lays an egg in the pen of the ranch’ miniature black-and-white miniature horse, Panda.
The students’ were treated to a taste of Heidi’s persona. She kept up a steady chorus of honks while students swept and picked up various animal droppings. Their efforts were required to assure a sanitary pen area for the goose and her friends who mix and mingle behind a wide, fenced-in area.
“I want to be a cowboy,” shouted one of the boys as he stepped out of one of the school vans.
For a couple hours, the students were given the opportunity to do just that – or at least get a sense of what it takes to manage a ranch for animals who need special care and attention. Some of the animals are able to be adopted to other families while others are offered permanent sanctuary.
Volunteer Melissa Gates was delighted to introduce students to the animals in the petting zoo area, making it clear this is a haven not just for rescued animals but for the people who come and care for them. She said these animals, some of them neglected or abandoned, own a piece of her heart.
So Gates approaches every ranch chore with a reverence because it is so critical to the livelihood of these animals who she counts as family. Her devotion was contagious.
She told the students she considers the ranch a special “home away from home where I get my soul reactivated.”
Her devotion is contagious.
“I’ve always loved horses and farm animals, and I love to help anyone with them,” said seventh-grader Abby Brunssen as she approached the farming tasks. “It feels nice to just get out and help.”
Eighth-graders Miguel Fernandez and Sonny Williams worked in tandem to clean out Panda’s pen, one sweeping and one carrying the purple pooper scooper. They were good-natured about stepping carefully.
“Watch out for your shoes,” Miguel advised his friend.
“I think it’s fun because I get to help my community,” Sonny said as he dumped a load into the garbage pail.
Across the way, eighth-grader Tyler Welker-Hancock sprayed water inside a small splash pool for the petting zoo ducks and goose, stuffing a piece of cotton into a small hole as she and classmate Nikko Herrera scrubbed dirt off the sides.
“I feel accomplished,” Tyler declared.
To Gates, Northpoint’s visit was more than a school assignment: it’s a life lesson.
“I think it’s awesome they’re seeing how much care and love these animals need, and deserve,” Gates said of the sanctuary that depends on donations and volunteer assistance. “And I think it’s awesome for the kids to see them up close and personal. They’re not just animals. They’re individuals; living creatures just like them. They get hungry, they have individual personalities, they want their freedom … This is not simply a tour to see animals behind a fence.
“They are getting a chance to see each animal as a beloved create with their own personality. This is just a wonderful place to be that fills my heart.”
On prior Fridays, these students have gone on field trips to Lynx Lake where they helped work on trails and visited Yavapai Exceptional Industries (YEI) where they treated clients to a Halloween party.
Middle School Principal Tracy Williams said these trips combine enriching adventures with giving back to community. For some students, these excursions might inspire a career or a place to volunteer, she said.
“We always bring it back to an academic level,” Williams said of requiring students to write or otherwise creatively express how they interpreted the field experience.
Eighth-grader Kayanna Mynatt said she welcomes the Friday field excursions as a chance to experience more of the “outside world,” prompting her to think about the future as well as how they can now make a difference.
“This is fun,” said Mackenzie Bricker as she petted one of the horses recovering from a wounded leg. “I like that we get the opportunity to do this. It gives us a good feeling about our community.”
Follow Nanci Hutson on Twitter @HutsonNanci. Reach her at 928-445-3333 ext. 2041.