MOORESBORO, N.C. (WSPA) – There were some new kids on campus this week at Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy.

The North Carolina-based charter school welcomed four Nigerian Dwarf goats to its campus this week. The animals come by way of a North Carolina Schools Go Outside grant, which gave the school enough money to purchase the goats and build a barn to house them.

“We’ve had the garden for many years. But (the goats) kind of got started last year,” said Ron Schaeffer, who teaches STEM – a collection of science, technology, engineering and math subjects – at Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy.

Three of the four new dwarf goats at Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy

In 2022 the school got a grant to fund a small greenhouse to improve on its existing gardening programs. Schaeffer said one of his students lived on a farm, helping raise goats, chickens and other animals with their parents.

“She was like, can we bring some goats here,” said Schaeffer.

Like any good teacher, Schaeffer turned the question into a project for the more than 200 students who pass through his classroom each year.

“We started to explore what we needed to do to house the goats and what we needed to do to get them on campus,” he said. “We spent a lot of time with our classes doing a lot of research on the barns; what size it needed to be, how to build it.”

Schaeffer worked with students to complete an application for a grant to fund the goats and barn. When they were approved, the kids – the human ones – got to work building the barn.

“It’s all seventh and eighth grade students that have built the barn our goats are in. Except the roof – we had a parent of a couple of the students assist with the roof which is over 10 feet tall,” Schaeffer said.

“Students cut boards with hand saws, we hammered in nails, we hand-cut boards; we didn’t use any power tools to build it. They’ve enjoyed building it and they are pretty proud of it because they know they put effort into it and building it.”

Goats explore their new home at Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy

Growing vegetables and raising goats might not immediately sound like typical STEM subjects, but Schaeffer said there were plenty of STEM-related aspects of the project.

“Well building a barn is engineering. We have to design it, make sure all the pieces fit together, make sure the structures are sound and based off of physics principles, that the roof is at the right slope to be strong, that the drainage is enough for rain and snow,” he said. “And with all of that comes a good bit of mathematics.”

Student also use programs on computers to track when they plant or harvest vegetables, how much yield a crop brings in, and use data to determine what works best in their garden.

“So we can track all this data over time, determine and test and do research. And they are learning report writing, so they can send off for more grants and keep growing this program,” Schaeffer said.

Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy hopes to add chickens or guinea hens to the gardening program, and start sharing the harvests of the program with the surrounding community in the future.

One of the new goats at Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy