Thirty years ago, Linda Locke began her teaching career in Palm Beach County at JFK Middle School. She will retire this year as the founding teacher of the district’s only middle school pre-veterinary program at Osceola Creek Middle School. It has been a long journey for a scientist who went to the University of Miami School of Medicine and became certified in cytology.
After serving in four schools and opening three, including Osceola Creek, Locke was given the opportunity to blend her love of science and animals by starting a pre-vet program that would be compatible with the already well-established and successful high school program at nearby Wellington High School.
In 2013, she started her program with 20 students. Today, it has skyrocketed in popularity, attracting students from as far away as Lake Worth and Jupiter. She now leads a program of more than 200 students, which is rapidly developing into a self-sustaining program.
That first year, the students had chickens — lots of them. They incubated the eggs and raised the chickens in a little hen house. They ended up with a rooster in the brood that would crow loudly at each bell change. Another time, a horse visited, and part of the lesson was having students place sticky notes on various parts of the animal’s body to identify anatomy.
The program grew to include more animals and a small garden to feed them. One of the highlights of year two occurred when the students volunteered at the animal tent at the South Florida Fair. Timing was everything, and when a cow went into labor, two of the youngest vet students were there to actually help deliver the calf.
Today, the entire school community has come together to help the program. The students raise several types of lettuce, peppers, carrots, corn, broccoli, radish, beans and peas in raised gardens. With help from a local chicken club, a grand chicken coop was built to house the chickens that come from the eggs that are incubated each year.
The school’s pre-construction class has built matching frames to enclose chickens for safety, built indoor grow stands to start seedlings and has even built window boxes for plants to beautify the school courtyard. Several Eagle Scout projects have built cages and portable chicken coops.
Science education is at the heart of the program. Students research real world issues and work on teams to solve real world problems regarding animal care. They also work extensively in studying and researching the human body system as it relates to animal systems.
Thirty years ago, Locke could not have imagined what her Monday mornings would look like: students and parents wait in line to unload cages with all sorts of animals. The hands-on education continues every weekend and every break, as the students feed and care for bunnies, rats, hamsters and guinea pigs when school is closed. The same thing happens on Friday afternoons. Locke is there helping to load the animals for the weekend ahead.
Locke was presented with a wooden sign, created by the school’s pre-construction students, that says “Locke’s Nest.” It will be hung on the chicken coop. She proudly accepted it with tears in her eyes.
ABOVE: Linda Locke