Agriscience and FFA take root among middle schoolers
Agriculture education is growing steadily at the middle school level in Fayette County Public Schools, where about 1,800 students at four sites are taking agriscience electives this year. “My dad is a farm appraiser and it interests me, and I have a collection of animals,” said 13-year-old Nathan Miracle, who is eyeing the district’s pre-veterinary program at Locust Trace AgriScience Center.
Edythe J. Hayes, Leestown, and Jessie Clark middle schools and Carter G. Woodson Academy now offer basic classes that introduce youngsters to agriscience and perhaps feed a pipeline to Locust Trace. For eighth graders, specialized courses run for 18 weeks instead of nine, such as horticulture at Leestown and veterinary science at Hayes. Teacher Caitlin Earlywine coordinates the latter with high school staff at Locust Trace, which houses a vet clinic. “A lot of times, kids don’t understand that career and technical education is an option,” she said. “In our ag classes, it’s all about opening up kids’ interests and getting them involved.”
The FFA club is one way to go deeper and develop new skills. This leadership component of agriscience education has fostered self-confidence and even produced finalists for the 2019 National FFA Convention & Expo. Earlywine, the FFA adviser at Hayes, will accompany four students for the competition in Indianapolis, set for Oct. 30 through Nov. 2. The duo of Anna Fraley and Andrea Newland (now freshmen at Frederick Douglass High School) qualified in Environmental Services/Natural Resource Systems, while Nathan and teammate Jasmine Barnes (now eighth-graders at Hayes) advanced in Food Products and Processing Systems. After their wins at the state level in June, judges further evaluated their written reports and ranked them among the Top 12 in the country in their respective categories and divisions. (In addition, two individuals earned bronze status: Hayes’ Thomas Epps in Social Systems and Douglass’ Brian Strehl in Environmental Services/Natural Resource Systems.)
“FFA is such a good community and good kids. It’s a really amazing experience,” Andrea said. Anna agreed, recalling how their club helped spruce up the courtyard at Hayes last year. “FFA gives you a lot of opportunities, and you’re very involved with the school,” she said. Nathan and Jasmine have also found a niche in FFA. “A lot of people said it was really fun, and I wanted to try something new,” said Jasmine, who joined as a seventh-grader.
To prepare for Indianapolis, the two teams are tweaking their posters, reviewing appropriate terminology, and culling highlights from their reports. Representatives from Alltech will also help the students practice their delivery. Andrea and Anna will talk about how varying environments affect the pH level in water, while Jasmine and Nathan will show that aloe vera juice can preserve strawberries and blueberries. After the interview round at the convention, the Top 3 in each category will present in front of the whole crowd. Judges ultimately will rank the competitors and then award gold, silver, or bronze status.
While FFA membership is not required for ag students, teachers do recommend it. “Agriculture education is based on a three-circle model – classroom instruction, supervised agriculture experience (such as an internship), and FFA,” Earlywine said. “FFA brings it all together with the leadership piece and communication piece – soft skills that sometimes aren’t taught in the classroom setting.”
Fayette County Public Schools expanded its agriscience program to middle schools in 2016-17, with a high school teacher splitting time between Jessie Clark and Leestown. New hire Caitlin Earlywine took on the rotation the following academic year, when Edythe J. Hayes joined the mix. A fourth school, Winburn, came aboard in 2018-19 along with a second teacher, Ruth Ann Layne. Now in 2019-20, Earlywine works full-time at Hayes, Layne at Leestown, new teacher Alana Bentley at Jessie Clark, and Locust Trace transfer Jacob Ball at Carter G. Woodson Academy. (Winburn no longer participates.)
Did you know?
Kentucky FFA is an organization of nearly 15,000 students enrolled in agricultural education courses statewide. High school members in FCPS participate through the chapter at Locust Trace AgriScience Center. For middle school questions, please contact teachers Caitlin Earlywine (at Hayes), Ruth Ann Layne (at Leestown), Alana Bentley (at Jessie Clark), or Jacob Ball (at Woodson).