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MY WORD: We must preserve our roots in agriculture at the high schools

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By The Staff

Next year, students will benefit from the opening of Martha Layne Collins High School. While many new opportunities will await students, the community is concerned about a lack of support for the Agriculture Program.

According to Shelby County High School Principal Eddie Oakley, “The community wants to see more emphasis put on animal science and a transition away from agriculture mechanics.”

But students in the agriculture program at Shelby County High School and parents are concerned that the school board may not be doing what is best for students.

There will no longer be an Agriculture Power, Structural, and Technical Systems Career cluster offered at either high school.

Principal Oakley explained that “students will be allowed to get a taste of mechanics and welding but will no longer receive in-depth instruction in this area.”

This career option has been offered in the past and has been highly popular among students.

Starting next year there will be one general construction course offered that will include five areas of study, including welding. In the past, welding has been taught for a total of 12 weeks, but now has been reduced to fit into a course that includes five areas of study.

Another concern among the community is that there will not be enough teachers available at each high school. While there were two teachers at SCHS in the past, there will now only be one teacher at each school. The community is very concerned about the level of instruction that will be available to students through one teacher.

According to Toni Myers, Boyle County FFA Advisor, agriculture classes give students a sense of belonging and give them an interactive class experience: “Students come into my class and tell me they wouldn’t be in school if it weren’t for my class. Agriculture classes give students that hands-on experience that keeps them coming back to school the next day.”

The schools transition to a plant- and animal science-based curriculum will only cater to about half of the students currently enrolled in the Agriculture Program and will neglect to give students the knowledge of mechanical systems, which is hugely beneficial when running a successful farming operation.

Students will have fewer and more limited opportunities to acquire skills that will enable them to enter the workforce after graduation, or simply give them the knowledge to operate their own farms in the future.

Jim Ellis, co-owner of Ellis Farms, explained that agriculture is a major industry within our county:

“Agriculture in Shelby County is at least a 100 million dollar industry. This includes every aspect of agriculture production; farm supply stores, veterinary clinics, feed mills, equipment dealers etc, as well as income from crop and livestock sales. There has been a 25 percent increase in the market over the past 5 years.

And according to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, our county brought in $56.992 million from crop and livestock sales.

I remember 15 years ago the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce did a study of the value of agriculture in Jefferson county and surrounding counties. The study revealed something that I had already known: The value of agriculture in Jefferson and surrounding counties combined, did not equal the value of agriculture in Shelby County.

So it is very important for agriculture to be a strong program in our schools.”

This reduction in the Agriculture Program will not benefit our community. To tie this to the larger picture we spoke to Doug and Susan Schlosnagle of Dutch Creek Farm to get their input.

“We market all of our products, which consists primarily of grass-finished beef and free-range eggs, as locally grown products,” they said. “We’ve witnessed a significant movement in the Louisville and Lexington areas to purchase locally grown products.

“Shelby County is in a prime location to take advantage of this emerging market. It’s essential for schools in this area to have strong agriculture programs so that students will be well equipped to take advantage of this growing market in the future.”

Agriculture education cannot be overlooked if Shelby County is to take advantage of these developing markets. There are numerous professions in agriculture in many different areas of study.

Students need to be given exposure to mechanics, in addition to the math and science related areas.

“If we don’t teach young farmers how to operate and repair machinery, and give them a strong set of skills to prepare them for the farming industry we are neglecting our responsibilities to the young people of our community. While it is certainly important to have mathematicians and scientists, part of the reason for the downfall of our national economy is due to that fact that we simply forgot how to build and produce things,” said David Neville, a local cattle producer.

Mr. Neville has a lifetime of experience in the farming industry.

Irvin Kupper expressed concern over the future of students who won’t be enrolling in college and will be looking for ways to earn a living after graduation. Mr. Kupper is the manager of Tractor Supply Company and employs local FFA members. He also farms 900 acres.

He said, “We need to prepare the kids who aren’t planning on earning that college degree and are using agriculture as their avenue to enter the workforce directly after high school. They are an essential part of our community and need to be given quality education.”

The community’s input and support for the Agriculture Program in Shelby County High School and Martha Layne Collins High School is greatly needed.

The administration needs parents and community members’ input and support in order to guide and direct the future of the program and ensure that our young people are equipped to be successful after graduation, and contribute back to our community.

 

Chelsey Schlosnagle and Kyla Selby are students and FFA members at Shelby County High School.