Hands-on class finds success

Published 8:59 pm Friday, September 17, 2010

Levi Davis and Aaron Bryan are two of the Ag Academy students working to build greenhouses at Goshen High School. The greenhouses, funded in part with a $150,000 USDA grant, will expand the offerings at the academy

If you build it, they will come. Kelli Pritchett and Rusty Yeomans believed that building greenhouses at the Agriculture Academy at Goshen High School would enhance the programs offered and that “they would come.”

That was three years ago.

They built the three greenhouses and, the kids have come.

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“We have 35 students in the Ag Academy this year and that’s up five from last year,” said Pritchett, who along with Yeomans teaches at the academy. “The greenhouses will make it possible for us to have more hands-on opportunities for the students. One of the greenhouses will be used to grow tilapia and catfish and the others to propagate plants.”

The 40-foot by 30-foot greenhouses were purchased with a $150,000 USDA grant. It took more than a green thumb to raise the houses.

A lot of hard work went into building the houses and the Ag Academy students put in a lot of sweat equity over three years time.

Yeomans said maintenance workers with the county board of education helped but the students did the labor.

“The building of the greenhouses was a good learning experience,” Yeomans said. “The students learned everything from scraping film off the walls to pouring concrete.”

As beneficial was the building experience was, it is the learning that will take place inside those walls that will prepare the students for careers in agriculture, for enjoyment as home gardeners or just as outdoor enthusiasts.

“We are very fortunate here in Pike County to have three academies for our students to attend – the Business and Finance Academy at Pike County High School, the Culinary Arts Academy at Charles Henderson High School and the Ag Academy here at Goshen,” Pritchett said. “The Ag Academy is the only one in the state and we take great pride in that.”

Goshen was chosen as the site for the Ag Academy because the area continues to be primarily agrarian.

“Agriculture is the heart and soul of this area,” Pritchett said. “The idea for academies here in Pike County actually came about nearly 15 years ago. The Ag Academy became a reality five years ago. Bill Sanders, a Goshen farmer, had land that joined the school property and he made it available for purchase. We started with five acres and one classroom. Now we have 26 acres, the academy building, three greenhouses and the riding arena.”

When students began to realize that the Ag Academy wasn’t just for those who wanted to get on a tractor and plow a field, they started to explore the opportunities offered.

“Agriculture makes up 20 percent of the American workforce,” Pritchett said. “Actually, there are more jobs in agriculture than there are people to fill them. And agriculture has become more technologically based. It’s tech savvy.”

As long as there are people, there will be a need for food and fiber. And, agriculture will provide.

There are, and will be, many opportunities in agriculture from hands to the plow to hands on the keyboards.

The Ag Academy is application-based learning and students who attend the Academy are selected through an application. They must have a 2.5 GPA, good all-around students and be well disciplined. They also must take pre-requisite classes in the ninth and 10th grades in preparation for the Ag Academy curriculum.

The animal science, plant science, fish and wildlife and forestry programs cross the curriculum to include science, social studies and the history of agriculture.

“Many of our students are especially interested in animal science,” Pritchett said. “Several of them are interested in veterinary medicine and other raise cows and horses. We now have a riding program at the Academy. Some of the students have their own horses and we also have five lesson horses. The students learn to take care of the horses and then take care of them.”

The Ag Academy will host a rodeo in November and students will be involved in preparing for the rodeo, carrying it out and closing it down.

Several of the Ag Academy students participate in the Alabama High School Rodeo Association and are also participating in the school’s equestrian riding club, which is designed to be a feeder club to the Troy University rodeo program.

“The club is teaching students horsemanship, how to take care of the horses and health management,” Pritchett said. “It is generating a lot of interest.”

With the completion of the three greenhouses, the availability the riding arena and the greater awareness of the opportunities in the growing field of agriculture, more students are expected to apply for admission to the Ag Academy.

“The Academy can accommodate 50 students and we expect to reach that number soon,” Pritchett said. “And where we grow from there – we’ll have to wait and see.”