After a yearlong break, LaCrosse High School is preparing to reboot its hands-on agricultural program for the upcoming school year. Ag classes, after all, are a growing trend.
On Monday, Superintendent and Principal Tim Somers announced recent Purdue University graduate Raye Ann Tiede as the new agricultural science and business teacher. Tiede grew up on her family's farm in Star City, Ind. Tiede said combining teaching and agriculture is her passion.
LaCrosse'a agriculture program debuted in 2011-12. It consists of animal science and plant and soil studies classes. Somers said the program was gaining momentum, but when the teacher left for family reasons, it came to a grinding halt.
"There was a bump in the road, but now we're getting it going again," Somers said.
"I'm looking forward to restarting the program and getting to know the kids," Tiede said. "I want to do a lot of hands-on labs, where they actually get to know and do what they're learning."
The four agriculture classes will be available to all high school students next year. The classes will be similar to those in the first year, where Somers said there was "a lot of dissection." In the animal sciences class, students studied cow hearts and chickens' digestive systems. There were also field trips to farms.
LaCrosse junior Nate Rhodes was enrolled in an animal science class in 2011-12 and was surprised at the biological similarities between the animals they studied and humans.
"I thought the class was a big success, all in all. It's a great class to be in if you live on a farm or work on one," Rhodes said.
While Rhodes doesn't plan to go into an agricultural career, he regularly volunteers for farmers in the area. At Troxel Dairy Farm in Hanna, Rhodes helps with the farm's numerous cattle. Rhodes is considering in enrolling in an agriculture class next year.
"Since I live in this area, these are good things to know about," Rhodes said. "I like to learn new things and be able to help the farmers."
Somers said similar agricultural programs are increasingly popping up in education.
"There's a general push to be vocationally minded. Not all of my kids will go to college or should go to college," Somers said.
Somers said agriculture is one of the professions students can go into as soon as they graduate from high school. However, the program also benefits those planning on higher education, whether looking at an agricultural major or entering the medical field.
"There aren't too many high school biology courses where you see how the systems of the body work, what they look like," Somers said.
Scott Johnson, president of the Indiana Association of Agricultural Educators, said bringing a more science-oriented focus to agricultural education is a statewide trend. Johnson said the presence of agriculture in Indiana high school education is steadily growing, and many schools are seeing the benefits.
"Without a doubt, by talking with people in the industry, I see that our grads in agriculture education programs are highly sought after," Johnson said.
Amanda Mullins, vice president of the state ag educators group, said the agriculture field is much broader than most think. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one in 12 employed Americans works in agriculture. Mullins said while having students studying agriculture is a future career boost, it also helps them in the present.
"Agriculture courses open avenues for kids," Mullins said. "A lot of kids who would drop out of school or who think school is boring find their niche in agriculture."
Somers also said the agriculture program had an instantaneous effect on LaCrosse students enrolled for the first year.
"The kids were interested in the (agriculture) class, and that makes for better performance in their other classes, too," Somers said. "It gave more relevance to what they're learning. They saw why they learn all of that math stuff. They saw that it had real applications."
Tiede said one challenge for next year will be building up a Future Farmers of America chapter at LaCrosse High School, but she expects there will be a lot of support for the agriculture program from the farming community.
"I am really looking forward to having this next year," Somers said. "We have so many kids already involved and interested in agriculture."