Thursday, September 25, 2008

Academy to help train VA students in agriculture

9.23.2008By Jane W. GrahamAFP Correspondent

HALIFAX, Va. — Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine joined in the excitement Sept. 10 to cut the ribbon, opening the Governor’s Career and Technical Academy for Renewable Resources and Agricultural Sciences. The academy, one of eight in the county, is designed for pre-K-12 students, said Melanie Stanley, director of academies for the Halifax County School System. Stanley said she is excited about the academy, which she expects to enable county students to become part of the its agricultural industry as adults.

Stanley is a county native who left and came back when she was needed to help with her family’s business after her mother was injured. She stayed and surprised herself by joining the school system. She said that Halifax is a rural county in southern Virginia with approximately 6,000 public school students. About 1,800 of these are in high school. While the county is located in the state’s dwindling tobacco belt, forestry is its largest industry, Stanley said.

The county’s academy approach to education is different from magnet schools, Stanley said. There is no need to apply; the doors are open to all students who want to attend. The academies offer dual enrollment college level courses, she added. Stanley said the renewable resources and agricultural academy looks at agriculture sciences from several different viewpoints. She is developing four programs of study for the high school students. They are horticulture, pre-veterinary, biotechnology and renewable resources. The programs are being designed to meet the needs that have been identified through community participation.

Business partnerships and grants play important parts in the schools, she said. Examples of community participation include the Lowe’s Equine Center at the county fairgrounds that belongs to the school system and a 128-acre farm willed to the schools by the late Hula Moorefield. He stipulated that it be used to enhance agricultural sciences.

In outlining the four programs of study for high school students, Stanley said that each tries to teach a variety of skills and business practices that will help students work in the agricultural industry. The horticulture program offers the study of floriculture. Students work with plants in the high school’s greenhouse, learning how to care for plants, how to run a greenhouse and how to run a business. The pre-vet course of study is dealing with horse management this year. The barn at the fairgrounds is home to this program. She said she believes Halifax County is the only school system in the state to have its own equine barn. It is equipped with an interactive classroom that lets students learn with hands-on projects. Stanley said she is looking forward to adding small and large animal veterinary sciences to the curriculum in the coming year.

The biotechnology program will be a study of biological application. In 2009, Stanley said the program will be doing a lot in aquaculture, a need that has been identified locally. Students will be learning how to earn a livelihood in this field. The program of study may incorporate some catfish farming in the students’ schedules. The fourth course of study is in renewable resources. Its topics will include forestry and biofuels. Among the hands-on activities the students can expect is making biofuels. They will also be looking at forest mensuration, including harvesting and logging. This program will have help from WoodLINKS, an industry education partnership. In this part of the plan of study, students move from how to take rough cut lumber to making furniture, to using both hands-on methods and computerized machines, to marketing, and on to packaging and shipping. Stanley said this program will help give them tools with which to work, including math, finance and marketing capabilities. She said she hopes it will help them to begin to understand and see all aspects of the industry. Not every student can excel in hand scraping a chair seat, she said, but one might be able to market the product.

The program is trying to teach values and give the students a feeling of ownership for what they have created. The county’s students become involved in the program before high school with the younger students going on field trips and seeing what the older students do. In middle school, the students can take an introduction to agricultural science that includes some of the same components that are in the high school courses. A greenhouse is being constructed at the middle school to further this project. It is an indication that the academy is a work in progress.

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