As far as the second graders were concerned, Anthony was a straight-up rock star.
His caramel-colored fur. His piercing blue eyes. The way he slowly ate, not gobbled, the plants the Nebinger Elementary students offered to him, considering each piece thoughtfully before drawing it into his mouth.
“He’s the coolest goat!” shouted one little girl, eyes fixed on the diminutive Anthony, who sat placidly while five children petted him enthusiastically and 15 more waited for their turns.
Nebinger has gone all-in on environmental education, with a lush rain garden that doubles as an outdoor classroom space utilized by the South Philadelphia school’s 450 students. Children are encouraged to be “citizen scientists,” and to think about ways to make urban landscapes greener.
The school took it to the next level on Friday with a visit from the Philly Goat Project, a Germantown organization that provides grazing, animal-assisted therapy services, lessons in sustainability, and agricultural exposure to city residents. The nonprofit also holds goat walks, and hosts goat yoga and goat storytime sessions. (Imagine children acting out “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” with actual goats to assist.)
Five goats — Violet, Clementine, Bebito, Ivy, and Anthony — made the trip to Nebinger, at Sixth and Carpenter Streets. All around them, kids swarmed, sirens sounded, and the ear-piercing sound of heavy construction equipment filled the air for several hours straight, but the goats didn’t care. They’re used to city life, and welcome the interaction.
“They’re very social goats,” said Lily Sage, assistant director of the Philly Goat Project.
The goats, all Nigerian Dwarfs, have jobs. On Friday, they handled some of the weeding in Nebinger’s gardens, and they certainly created goat enthusiasts among the student body, some of whom got the chance to walk the goats around the perimeter of the building.
Beau Greisiger — a 16-year-old environmental enthusiast who lives in the suburbs, attends Harriton High in Lower Merion, and helps run an outdoors club at Nebinger — was responsible for the visit. Greisiger secured grant funding to bring goats to Nebinger and another Philadelphia school for four years.
“I like Clementine because she can jump through a hula hoop,” said one a second grader.
The students, who had prepped for the visit for a week, gobbled up goat facts: Did you know Ivy is deaf? Did you know the goats know English, Spanish, and some nonverbal commands? That they can eat 25% of their body weight daily in roughage? That they like to play King of the Mountain? (That last lesson came when a goat tried to climb a first grader’s back.)
Javier Dominguez, Nebinger’s science teacher, ran back and forth between goat stations, a smile on his face for most of the day. From the kindergartners and autistic-support classes to the not-easily-impressed eighth graders, the reviews were the same: they loved goats.