Sandy Schulze's kindergarten class at Salem Lutheran Elementary School had been preparing for weeks to witness at least one of the 12 eggs in their state-donated incubator to show signs of a baby chick pecking its way into the world.
But before the eggs' 21-day incubation period was complete, the machine's power briefly cut off overnight and the developing embryos' chances of survival dwindled down to zero.
"We didn't have very good luck," Schulze said, "but watching all the complications involved with just the eggs was really great for the children.
"They learned about proper temperatures and moisture levels and a lot about sharing responsibility for monitoring their development."
Yet, the kindergartners were still disappointed that not even a peep could be sounded to acknowledge their hard work. Then, Don Fiske walked into the school carrying a box that contained six chirping 2-week-old chicks.
As the San Fernando Valley representative of the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom, he supplied Schulze's class with its incubator as part of a statewide effort to introduce young students to the various aspects of the farming industry.
"We draw up various lesson plans and hands-on activities geared toward agriculture so children can recognize what it's like to be a farmer," Fiske said of the foundation's 9-year-old awareness program. Fiske, a retired elementary school principal, has been with the foundation since 1982.
Claiming love at first sight with the state foundation when it held its annual "Farm Day" celebration at one of his schools, Fiske said the program has enabled him to see how far the nation has gotten away from its farming roots.
"People don't understand or appreciate the concerns of the farmer today," he said. "We need to bring agriculture back into our consciousness in order to remain a healthy country."
"We're not trying to get these children to be farmers," he added. "Only 2% of America's population does the actual farming for everyone else, but there are a lot of agriculture-related professions these kids can get into."
Placing one chick's neck between two fingers as she nuzzled her cheek against its soft down, Katie Horan, 5, demonstrated to her classmates how to properly hold their newfound fuzzy friends.
"You hold it like this so it won't get away," she said. "But you have to put your other hand under its feet too for support."
"I think it's about to go to sleep," said Brian Delaney, 7.
"Not too tight!" 6-year-old Neda Hooshair warned. "Don't squeeze it. It can't breathe."
"It can peck me," Katie shrieked, letting the chick jump awkwardly from her hand onto a nearby table.
"This is why I didn't bring over the newborn ones," Fiske said, laughing. "You need chicks that can survive all this."