W.B. Saul High School live-streams pregnant ewes from barn

Posted: March 18, 2014

EVERY YEAR about this time, teacher Gail Koskela can't sleep.

The W.B. Saul High School educator isn't awake fretting about plans for Saul's annual Country Fair Day, though. Nor is she up with anxiety that some students have senioritis.

Koskela's worries are about the pregnant ewes at the school's barn in Upper Roxborough, where they wait to birth cute little lambs during lambing season. She used to leave her house during the night and drive 15 minutes to the barn just to see how the ewes were doing.

This year, though, Koskela is able to observe the pregnant ewes from her home computer or iPhone on the newly launched Ewe Tube site, the appropriately named "channel" live-streaming from the barn. At philasd.org/ewetube, Koskela and the world can watch the five ewes eat, sleep and give birth. Two moms have already birthed two lambs each. One of those labors was live-streamed.

Koskela, who called the project "a positive morale booster for the school," can even pan and tilt one of the cameras remotely to get a complete picture.

"I can't go back. The difference in [student] engagement between last year and this year has been unbelievable," said Koskela, who teaches agriculture in animal sciences.

Her students now get "more opportunity to observe behavior, because when we all come down for 45 minutes or an hour for class, you're going to see what the ewes are doing when you're feeding them, but you're not going to see what they're going to do for the rest of the day," she said.

As of Friday, Ewe Tube had more than 2,000 unique visitors and more than 3,000 page views, said Philip Ichinaga, executive director of IT security for the school district. Viewers averaged four minutes and 50 seconds per visit on the Ewe Tube site.

Koskela is also live-tweeting lambing season using the Twitter handle @SaulLambWatch, offering updates such as one from last week: "Watching the rain drip in hi def. Hope the wind is less than predicted. Good night til 2 am."

Ewe Tube was a labor of love that began with an idea by Koskela, which she passed along to tech-savvy district staffers.

"Most of this was an all-volunteer effort - we weren't told we had to do it. This wasn't a district initiative or anything like this," Ichinaga said. "This was a, 'Hey, I think we can do this and I think we can do this either free or cheaply.' "

Ichinaga donated a camera, but he also reached out to Joseph Snell, a district vendor from Securities and Data Technologies Inc., in Newtown, to ask for a high-resolution loaner camera. Snell ran it up the chain, got an OK and installed the camera for free.

On Wednesday, SDT president Jerry Paley donated the loaner camera to Saul, to Koskela and Ichinaga's glee.

That means that Ewe Tube viewers can stay tuned for on-camera shearing and a petting zoo, Koskela said.

Ewe Tube also shows "how much interaction the kids have with the animals. That we just don't buy a project animal for a kid and they have it for two months and then it's gone," Koskela said. "They go through the whole cycle of preparing for the animals and raising the animals and everything else."

On Twitter: @ReginaMedina

Online: ph.ly/DNEducation

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