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Indianapolis school adopts a cow

There's a new addition to Pam Berg's classroom at IPS School 34.

INDIANAPOLIS — An IPS school is finding a way to bring the farm into the classroom by adopting a calf from northern Indiana.   

The program is helping elementary school students explore STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields early on.

"Oh! Did you hear that cow? Oh my goodness," said Pam Berg, a STEM teacher at Eleanor Skillen School 34 in Indianapolis. 

Inside Berg's classroom, a new addition is joining the students.

"We have a baby calf," she said to the class. "I know! It's so exciting!"

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The students in first grade listen closely, utterly excited to welcome in "Natalie the Calf" to the classroom, at least virtually, from her farm two hours north of Indianapolis. 

Credit: WTHR/Rachael Krause

"It's hilarious, the whole thing, and any time I tell someone we adopted a cow, they're like, 'What?'" Berg said, laughing. 

The lessons are drawing students in.

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"I love it," said Calla Moser, a first grader. "Natalie, she's so cute."

Teaching kids how to cow-culate Natalie's weight and how much she eats, Berg has her students excited about STEM and asking the big questions.

"I want to learn why a cow is so, so ginormous," Moser said. 

Credit: WTHR/Rachael Krause

As they check in virtually with Natalie's life on the farm, Berg gives students some hands-on farmhand experience.

"And you're trying to get that milk out, OK?" Berg explained to students, practicing milking cows using water and gloves.

"We got to squirt milk out," Moser said. "It was fun."

Taking them to the rural setting without ever leaving the classroom is an experience these kids might not otherwise get.

"We also have found some other videos online about the farm and farm life, what it looks like, because I haven't found a kid yet in this school that has spent any length of time at a farm," said Berg. "So it's important we bring the farm to them."

Berg is milking the kids' excitement about Natalie by turning every class with their calf into a STEM lesson to get their minds moving. 

"I don't think it's important, I think it's imperative," Berg said. "The things these kids are already picking up, like 'I can do that,' fields they'd never dreamed of or never thought of, there are so many STEM careers out there. And introducing them to them at this early age is amazing."

Finding new ways to get kids engaged, even by adopting a cow, Berg said, is critical to helping these students learn and one day, succeed in STEM fields as adults.

"Yeah, I want to do that milk thing again because it was so, so fun," Moser said. 

Having Natalie the Calf inside the classroom this year is possible through the Adopt a Cow program, which is free for schools.

Berg said her students have had such a fun time connecting with Natalie virtually, she's planning on bringing a cow and maybe some other farm animals out to Eleanor Skillen for students in the spring. 

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