Lacey Peterson
The Union Democrat

Gold Rush Charter's Country School campus on the former Sullivan Creek School property is looking more like a farm every day.

Students spent last week participating in a plethora of Earth Week (and farm) themed activities including a plant sale, butter making and creek clean-up.

The 90-student school is focused on environmental sustainability and has a flourishing farm and garden program, said teacher Cheryl Divine-Jonas.

"We have a much bigger campus here. All the teachers are on board with farm and garden and sustainability," Divine-Jonas said.

The Country School was formerly in a modular building near Grace

Baptist Church in Sonora and since fall has rented its current space

from the Curtis Creek School District.

The Country School has a garden, greenhouse and animal pen with

goats, rabbits and chickens. Students sell the fresh eggs as a

fundraiser, and grade-levels switch off on pen chores, Divine-Jonas


Kindergartner Madison Sheddon, 5, says she likes the animals a lot.

"The chickens are so funny," she said.

The students can also walk the bunnies using little harnesses, Divine-Jonas said.

"The baby goats don't bite," advised kindergartner Jayda Schultz, 6.

The school hopes to bring in lambs next, Divine-Jonas said.

"We submitted a grant request to the Sonora Area Foundation and

were given $5,000. In addition to that we raised $2,700 and received a

$1,000 donation for the animal shelter," said James Gallno, Gold Rush

Charter School vice principal.

The students grow raspberries, strawberries, broccoli and various other vegetables.

"They learn about planting, weeding, composting," Divine-Jonas said.

Students put the chicken manure in the garden and learn about the

nitrogen cycles. All classrooms have seedlings growing in them and the

seventh- and eighth-graders will install a drip irrigation system in

the garden as part of their math class, she said.

"We have fun here," Divine-Jonas said. "We try and teach

conservation. Basically - habitat, adaptation- we try to tie it into

connections with the earth, stewardship."

The school also emphasizes using art to bring their studies to life.

During a mammal unit, students took wool from a sheep and turned it

into felting, then fabric. In September, students made fruit rolls,

pickles and jam. This month, students made butter and cheese.

Teacher Lynne Hildreth plans to teach her students to knit, and students made Egyptian mummy masks during history.

Shannon Owens' second- and third-grade students recently used sticks, wood and moss to make birds nests.

"It seems like the kids who struggle ... in the classroom, just

really thrive," with art projects like the birds nests, Owens said.

"Their intelligence just really comes out."

Contact Lacey Peterson at or 588-4529.