University View Academy first-grader Carson Carney brags that his horse, Tinkerbell, is the tallest his family owns. But he admits he needs a boost to get into the saddle. Tinkerbell is one of 20 horses, miniature ponies, donkeys, alpacas, llamas, sheep, goats, and chickens that make up his family’s animal house. It’s a traveling petting zoo and animal ride enterprise based on the family farm near Independence in Tangipahoa Parish. Carson plays an integral role. “I take care of the petting zoo,” he stated. “They love to eat,” he observed about the animals. Sometimes it’s 15 animals or five in his care. “You can hold ’em, but you can’t toss ’em or step on ’em, and you can’t hold ’em outside the cage enclosure,” is his standard greeting to children who come to pet them. And he knows all the animals’ names.
His older brother, Mason, a sophomore at UVA, helps in the loading of the animals into trailers at the farm, the set up at the venue, and maintains the equipment. His welding skills come in handy. “My uncle Keith taught me,” he said. He’s had to fix the carousel the horses are tethered to, so they walk in a circle while people ride them. Their older sister, Madison, is also involved. She graduated from University View Academy in 2018 and attends LSU studying to be a civil engineer. She and Mason began attending the school when it was formed in 2011. Over the years, mom Kimberly has gotten the kids’ schedules down to an exact science drawing on her years of experience in how UVA’s online school works. The family rises early to take care of the animals. “Well, when you live on a farm, the animals come first since they can’t take care of themselves,” she stated. Then, it’s school time with live sessions and classwork with other chores interspersed.
She said she chose the online school for her kids to take advantage of the flexibility UVA offers. Mason said he enjoys that he isn’t “…stuck in class…” as he might be in a brick and mortar school and that he can “move ahead” in the classwork that offers him a “… a lot more free time.” Sometimes the family is at a venue with the animal farm for up to five days. Working ahead in classwork takes the pressure off, since they may not get home until ten o’clock at night.
Kimberly also said she likes how she can have a direct hand in her children’s’ education. “I like that I know what my kids are learning. I can see if my kids are falling behind, and I can call and talk to the teacher. I can learn with them and like being informed of what they’re learning and not leave it to someone else,” she explained. She said she knows Carson is doing well in science and math, but behind in reading. “I’m working with him,” she added. As for Mason, Kimberly said she sees his future in “… stuff he can build with his hands.” He wants to take classes to improve his welding and learn more about working with metal. He’s experimented with blacksmithing by setting up a small forge to make some knives. He even took his mom’s hairdryer to use as a bellows for the forge, much to her surprise. Such is the ingenuity and diversity of students at University View Academy.
*Editor’s note: The family business is shut down due to the coronavirus physical distancing order. The Carney’s hope business will pick up this summer if the rule is relaxed.