Community Agriculture Alliance: RISE grant helps students guide the future of agriculture

Jeannie Jo Logan
For the Steamboat Pilot & Today
One of the competitors in the senior swine showmanship makes eye contact with the judge at the Routt County Fair on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020. Along with FFA, agriculture programs offered being within the Hayden and Soroco school districts are helping shape the future of agriculture.
Shelby Reardon/Steamboat Pilot & Today

“I believe in the future of Agriculture” is the first sentence of the Future Farmers of America creed for the National FFA organization.

Students enrolled in the agriculture programs of Hayden and Soroco school districts hold this belief as they look to their futures. As our world continues to change and evolve, so does the face of agriculture.

There is a collective natural resource stewardship brewing in our community: Ranchers are installing better technology for their tractors to increase production of crops; honey processing has blanketed the landscape; and the desire to understand where our food comes amid COVID-19 supply chain disruptions is all too real. With this new reality, school districts are responding.

FFA students at Soroco High School.
Courtesy photo

When Hayden and Soroco school districts were awarded the Response, Innovation and Student Equity (RISE) grant in 2021, this opened the opportunity to add more programming for the students. Over 50% of the student body in both high schools are taking advantage of ag programs, while lessons in the Developing Individuals and Growing Stewards (DIGS) program are being taught at the K-5 level and intro to ag classes for the middle school students.

The high schools offer intro to ag and fundamentals of ag, along with automotive and welding, horticulture and animal sciences classes. With the grant, the schools now are able to teach new programming, such as food products and processing, wildlife management and natural resources.

These choices will impact the futures of our students by enabling opportunities for hands-on learning and work-based learning. Study labs at both schools are in process and designed to foster relevant and guided learning in all six agriculture career pathways. In addition to hands-on learning, students could also earn certifications in welding, food service and graduate with an associate’s certificate in agriculture from Colorado Northwestern Community College.

FFA students at Hayden High School.
Courtesy photo

High school teachers at both districts work collaboratively to offer more curriculum for students and match their skill sets to industry standards. With the remodel of existing facilities for hands-on learning labs, students will have the opportunity to practice these essential skills for post-secondary education or workforce development.

Each district will specifically focus on how students could expand their current agricultural businesses, Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE), but, in many cases, lack the essential equipment and physical spaces to receive the proper training.

With the RISE grant award, students will be able to apply skills in meat fabrication and processing while in high school. Skills most students in that career pathway are not able to practice until their third or even fourth year at a university. Parallel opportunities include natural resources, agricultural mechanics and welding, and plant sciences.

Like many other industries, agriculture is changing. Career and Technical Education (CTE) is vitally important for students finding avenues that foster their individual talents, preparing for post-secondary education and developing employable skills. Through the RISE Grant, both districts are molding the next generation of leaders for Routt County.

Jeannie Jo Logan is the Yampa Valley RISE grant project manager.

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