A new eighth grade agriculture education program at Urbana Junior High School is already producing award-winning students.
Urbana Junior High began offering “Introduction to Agriculture” the current school year, said Agriculture Education and FFA Advisor Mallory Zachrich. The eighth graders went on to state competitions and placed in them earlier this year.
This year’s eighth graders competed in the state competition April 2 at the Ohio State Fairgrounds, winning awards for their knowledge. The Milk Quality Career Development team was first in the state. The eighth grade Livestock Judging Team earned 12th in the state.
Students in the eighth grade program compete like the high school students do, though not all competitions have an eighth grade group. Eighth graders also competed in invitationals and practice contexts for five Saturdays with the older FFA students. The Ag Diagnostics team did very well in county competitions as well.
The new agriculture program is considered career-tech, and receives funding from the state of Ohio for that, she said. The funding helps pay for classroom supplies.
“It really can kind of encompass a lot of what they are learning in other classes,” she said. “They’re brushing up on measuring skills in shop – that’s a good example of physics and torque and how an engine works. It’s a little bit of everything.”
The course gives one to two weeks of all the different subject areas taught in the high school classes, Zachrich said. This includes working in the shop on engines, woodworking, computer aided design in the computer lab for architecture and blueprint design, food science, product development, plant and animal science.
Students learn everything from proper terminology for animals and their behaviors, to how to extract DNA from a strawberry, to how to diagnose and fix a tractor engine.
“We’re hoping to spark an interest with them,” Zachrich said. “It gets them ready for high school classes if they want to pursue it.”
Adding the program both gives students a class with hands-on coursework and opens up a potential area of study for later grades.
Students have been excited about the program.
“We’re seeing an outpouring of kids having something hands-on to do. They enjoy the labs in class, where they get to be creative or moving around,” she said. “There was a little bit of timidness to go out in the shop, pick up tools and do stuff. But once they get into it, they realize it’s not so bad, they don’t need to be a genius to figure it out, it’s just a matter of trying. Once they realize we don’t expect them to master the skill, just participate, they become a little more open to it. We enjoy it because it’s a very loose environment and not super structured, and it is all at their own pace.”
Zachrich said there is more to agriculture education than animals and farm tools.
“It’s not just sows and plows, it’s so much more than that,” she said. “It’s very much a STEM-type subject matter, using math and science. You learn where food comes from, how it’s produced, how to make it, how to start your own business.”
The eighth grade program has two different groups of students for a semester class, for a total of four classes in the school year. The high school has its own “Introduction to Agriculture” program which is a full year. After taking that, students choose their classes to specialize in an area, such as food science or animal science.
Zachrich said other schools have been bringing in eighth grade agriculture programs, and as more do so, there will be more competitions available at the eighth grade level.
It is uncertain if the program will be offered for eighth graders next year, due to the grade rearrangement for the high school construction project. But Zachrich said she hopes the program can continue at the eighth grade level. She said in addition to being a way for students to get an idea of a potential career path, it is a place to team them how to do things around the house for themselves.
“This generation is becoming a very do-it-yourself generation, with all these shows on how to fix up your home, grow your own products to feed your family. We are more and more seeing a generation lacking the skills to do it on their own, so we want them to have a little bit of background so they can,” she said.
Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.