“Everyone put your chickens away!”
It was, without a doubt, the first time I’d heard these words spoken in a classroom. Or anywhere, for that matter. I was on the road visiting New Holstein School District to get a firsthand look at their agriculture-science program, and I must say, it exceeded expectations. Check out the video!
The agri-science program at New Holstein High School gives students a chance to experience the many facets of the agriculture industry. They offer classes like food science, horticulture, turf & landscape, small animal care, large animal science, veterinary science, and equine science. Next semester, they’ll be offering a new option: farm to fork. One thing all of these courses have in common is their emphasis on learning by doing. Students are invited to dive in and get their hands dirty (both figuratively and literally, that is).
“We do industry tours… We’ve done a dairy farm, a cheese plant, a goat farm, a place with sled dogs, the humane society, a mink farm, a hydroponic tomato and cucumber farm. We do different tours to show how diverse agriculture is in the area,” said Joe Heinbuch, agriculture instructor.
The Learning Environment
When you step from the school hallway into the agriculture classroom, at first you won’t see anything too out of the ordinary (with the exception of a mega-trophy won by a trio of female students at the 2017 Calumet County Fair Catch-A-Pig event. But pig-catching trophies aside…). The classroom’s crown jewels lie in the adjoining rooms.
On one side is a garage-like space filled with animals. Four stalls house egg-laying hens and fluffy, yellow chicks that hatched just days earlier. There’s a fish tank where tilapia swim. The rest of the room is lined with small animal cages, which are home to rats, rabbits, a turtle, an iguana, and chinchillas. The students let me hold a super-soft chinchilla and told me the reason they’re so soft is because of their fur density—while humans grow one hair from each follicle, chinchillas grow 50!
The door on the other side of the classroom leads to a greenhouse. Despite the cold, snow-covered Wisconsin day, life in the greenhouse is abundant, from sweet corn to coffee plants to avocado trees. Outside, there are a few tapped maple trees and a pot of sap boiling.
Talking to the students, it’s very clear that they enjoy and find value in their school’s agriculture program. When I asked them separately what they would tell someone who was considering taking an ag class, they all gave me the same, quick response: “Do it!”
“It’s a great opportunity to get a taste of what’s out there outside of your normal core academics. It’s hands-on learning,” said Teagan, a student at the school.
I learned a lot in a few short hours at New Holstein High School. Here are a few of my takeaways:
- Amazing things happen when schools build programs around what makes their community special. Since agriculture is so big in New Holstein, the school has enjoyed the support of their community and local FFA chapter in terms of funding, materials, and field trip opportunities.
- Programs tailored to the needs of the community will not only equip students to be successful after graduation, but may also encourage them to stay in the area.
“One of the things I strive to look at for all of my students is giving them an opportunity to test-drive a future profession. The ag program allows us to do that because we have a lot of employers that are looking to hire our kids,” explained Doug Olig, the school’s principal.
- High school girls scream very loudly when baby chicks poop on them.
My Challenge for You
Every community has characteristics that make it unique. For New Holstein, it’s the focus on agriculture. School leaders were able to build a very strong ag program thanks to the resources, expertise, and passion the community contributed. I encourage you to ask yourself the same question New Holstein did: What makes my city or town special? Then consider how you can weave those characteristics into your curriculum to best prepare students—and your community—for success down the road.
“My favorite part is seeing how the kids take ownership of their learning and their experiences… More often than not we sit in the classroom, and the kids get a theoretical experience and they have to try to make it relevant to their life today. Ag allows that to happen naturally and organically,” stated Olig.
To see more of Lauren’s insightful adventures, follow her On The Road with Lauren video series.
If you know of any schools like New Holstein that are thinking outside the box to prepare students for their futures, feel free to get in touch—perhaps Lauren will be on the road to your district next!