CASTLE HAYNE, N.C. (WECT) - Even though it’s called the Chicken Squad, a group of Castle Hayne Elementary School students has proven it is not afraid of getting its hands dirty to improve the school.
The Chicken Squad started with six students who "just had fun calling each other chickens," said Trista Prince, a Castle Hayne fifth grader and one of the founding members of the group along with classmate Layla Hutson. "We had a love for chickens ever since fourth grade. I don't know where it came from but we just started liking them."
That soon grew into a mini-movement at the school, complete with a marketing campaign featuring a website, email address and stickers as well as plans for cleaning up school grounds and other projects.
Prince noted that chickens weren’t the sole inspiration for the group’s name.
"We also thought it was a good idea because if you take the first letter of chicken and squad, that's the same first letters of community service," Prince said.
After the school's recent Fun Day, the Chicken Squad — up to around 35 members by that point — collected 15 bags of trash on school grounds.
The campus beautification project — cleaning the coop, as they call it — was the first group effort for Chicken Squad members, who have essentially been self-starters since Day 1.
"I kind of purposefully put it all on them and they've really taken it and ran with it," said fifth grade teacher and Chicken Squad advisor Chelsea Litzinger. "We talk all the time about leading by example and if we want others to do the right thing, we have to start with ourselves and do the right thing so it's been really neat to see that kind of become contagious."
So contagious that third and fourth graders have started putting their names on sign-up sheets next to Chicken Squad posters hanging in the Castle Hayne hallways.
Two of those posters have been largely responsible for the Chicken Squad's growth even if Hutson wasn't sure about students' interest level in the beginning.
"We made the posters, put them up and we had a few people sign up the first day and it kept being more and more and more," she said. "I didn't think people would sign up the first day but I think five people signed up on each poster in two hours."
Castle Hayne Principal Sam Highsmith said he's a firm believer in student leadership and students being advocates for themselves, which is precisely what the Chicken Squad represents.
Seeing the group progress beyond just an idea has been gratifying for him as well.
"I realized it was more than a sticker," said Highsmith, who like Litzinger was one of the first faculty members to get Chicken Squad stickers. "It was totally student created and driven. ... This is special.
“I think what they do is kind of go around and see what’s needed, and then they act on it.”
Some Chicken Squad parents have also gotten into the spirit of the group. Prince’s mom bought T-shirts printed with the words, “Surround yourself with chickens, not negativity” and surprised group members with them.