Meet the former graduate working alone at CPS's 'farm school' as animal caretaker during the lockdown

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Shane Blake has been a community member at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences since he started volunteering with animals at age 8. Now as a staff member - and a 2015 graduate from the school - Blake is the only person on campus keeping the farm running.

"Thank god for Shane," said school principal Bill Hook. "He takes real good care of the animals, and we need him."

Blake, 24, has worked every day of the COVID-19 lockdown. From cleaning animal pens and feeding animals to collecting eggs and milking the dairy cow, he takes care of everything on the small farm.

"I come here every morning and afternoon," Blake said. "I keep an eye on (the animals)."

With Illinois schools shut down for the rest of the year, Blake's solo work will likely continue for months. Sometime soon, he and Hook will help one of their goats give birth.

Blake's favorite activity is usually cleaning out the pig pen, because he gets to let the pigs outside. This year, they've delayed the arrival of a sow, which students usually help give birth to a litter. Blake gives names to every piglet each year.

Along with the rest of his farm work, Blake is also part of the school's new equestrian therapy program. He took home the gold medal for horse riding earlier this year.

"(Blake) was a student here for four years and went to the animal science pathway. He did very well, he was a superstar," Hook said.

"Since he's been out of CPS, he's officially a farm worker. And I tell you, we could not be getting through this crisis without him."

The school itself is subject to the same restrictions as the rest of CPS schools. Teachers are operating entirely remotely, which creates an extra challenge for a school with an emphasis on hands-on learning.

But Hook said that the staff is coming together to make the remote learning transition a smooth one.

When asked what makes the agricultural high school special, Blake said, "It's a whole culture."
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