Opening young eyes to the diversity of ag

Opening young eyes to the diversity of ag

The continued educational goals of Polk County Farm Bureau’s Ag Program of the Year

In an era where the number of farms are diminishing, the Ag program at Kathleen High School is not only growing, but flourishing. Its teaching team is expanding to meet the demand for instruction in classes like Ag Foundations, Ag Communications, Animal Science, and Aquaculture.

At top, from left to right: Erica Morse, Doug Harwell, Keitha Hall, and Kyle Carlton.

“We’ve sold the idea that ag is going to teach you leadership skills, job skills,” explains Keitha Hall, who teaches Ag Foundations, Ag Communications, and Aquaculture to ninth through 12th graders. “You don’t have to have a cow to be in ag.” Students are more accepting of the program if they don’t have to show large animals. “I think we’ve changed their perception,” she says.

The program is reaching students where they are at. Lack of space at home isn’t an obstacle to learning about raising farm animals. The school staff has brought cattle to the school property, where they also are raising fish, breeding rabbits and teaching students to market hogs. “Every day, when they come into the class, the first thing they ask is if they’re going to the barn. They don’t want to get cooped up in the classroom,” says Doug Harwell, who joined the Ag department this year.

Suburbanites, who may have nowhere to raise a cow or hog, may have an aquarium at home. “They just absolutely love dealing with the fish,” says Kyle Carlton, who heads the department.

Teachers recognize everyone may not want to be a farmer or rancher. So instead, the program focuses on the entire person. “There’s quite a diversity of classes,” Carlton says. “There’s stuff for a lot of different kids.”

Meanwhile, technology has changed the nature of agriculture. Those in the industry are embracing tablets, the Internet, and software to do their jobs. “Science is a big part of agriculture,” says Harwell, who is experienced in the cattle and equine industries. “It’s not just a brainless activity. They’re challenged physically and mentally in this Agriculture program.” Harwell teaches Ag Foundations and Animal Science Advanced.

Carlton was teaching social studies when he made the switch to teaching Ag Mechanics in 2000. Today he also teaches On the Job Training, Forestry, and Horticulture to ninth through 12th graders.

In all, some 300 students are enrolled in Ag classes. Some had never been to the woods, or flown in an airplane before. Carlton’s Forestry students visit the woods every week as they prepare for competitions. Students are traveling to places like Louisville, KY, Oklahoma City, Washington D.C., and various locations in Florida.

“Students see that we have a successful program and they want to be a part of it,” says Hall, who is in her sixth year with the Ag program. The teachers work together to provide the best— and broadest— learning experience. They put in the hours after school and on weekends to prepare their students for Florida FFA Association and National FFA Organization competitions.

It’s been a winning formula. The Ag program has been named the Polk County Farm Bureau’s Ag Program of the Year. In addition to the most recent acclamation, last year was one of stunning accomplishments. The program’s students placed second in Land Judging and fourth in Home Site Evaluation nationally last spring. The students involved were Taeler Dupre, Brevyn Foreman, Cody Clark, and Carlton’s middle daughter, Shelby.

A year ago the school’s team also placed third in Parliamentary Procedure nationally. That team, led by Carlton’s oldest daughter, Morgan, included Michael Gary, Taeler Dupre, Jamie Garner, Thomas Farris, and Lexi Sanchez. At the state level, there were four state winners, and seven proficiency finalists.

Erica Morse, who joined the Ag teaching team a year ago, adds, “It’s a humbling and neat experience to be able to share that.” A teacher of Ag Foundations and Animal Science, who previously taught in middle school, she enjoys working with high school students as they fine-tune their skills. “Our students are pretty amazing. They work so hard,” says Morse, who sees about 200 students a day.

As program instructors continue to open young eyes to the diversity of agriculture, they hope to inspire young leadership for the future through Ag education.


photo by MATT COBBLE

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