Community Agriculture Alliance: Career and technical education expanding in Hayden, South Routt

Jeannie Jo Logan
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

In February 2021, the Hayden and South Routt school districts were awarded a joint grant from Gov. Jared Polis’ office under the Colorado RISE (Response, Innovation and Student Equity) Education Fund. The money awarded, a little over $1 million, is being split equally between the schools to fund career and technical education agriculture programming.

In 2019, several of the students from the Hayden School District invited Superintendent Christy Sinner to speech class, where they presented a speech on why their school needed an ag program. Coming from an ag background herself and education history with ag programming, she thought this was a natural fit.

In Soroco, they have a robust ag program and FFA chapter that dates back to 1963. Throughout the years, Soroco has produced many award winners, but Mr. Whaley, the current teacher/advisor, wants to offer more opportunities for his students. This desire along with Hayden’s need brought the two rival schools together, and they collectively received the funding.

The funding awarded has secured new teachers Eric Wellman in Hayden and Reece Melton in Soroco. Both bring passion, extensive knowledge and experience to the programs. Both districts have designed labs to foster hands-on learning in all six agriculture career pathways.

These labs will enhance lessons and learning in food processing/products, plant sciences, business, as well as in power/construction and energy. The teachers will work collaboratively to leverage each other’s strengths in providing lessons, and to aid in this approach, state-of-the-art cameras and technology will be installed. This will allow students the ability to participate within their structured class period and not have to be bused over Twentymile to receive the instruction.

The districts will be two of the only districts in the state to offer labs for all of their pathways and implement collaborative teaching.

While Hayden already has an amazing welding program that offers industry certifications for the students, the current teacher, Kevin Kleckler, will also provide that certification option to South Routt students. In addition, as the schools install and build out their food products labs, better known as commercial kitchens, students will be able to learn meat science, food processing and be certified in serve-safe food handling.

The plant science labs (greenhouses) will strengthen lessons in horticulture, natural resources and soils and, while implementing a business lab (storefront concept), will enable students to identify and learn all aspects of business, while crafting their own products for resale.

To expand on the importance of agriculture, lessons and curriculum will be provided for all grades K-12. At the elementary level, teachers will be delivering the DIGS (Developing Individuals Growing Stewards) lessons, while the teachers will bring ag to the classroom at the middle school level. This hands-on approach to education will better prepare students for post-secondary education and employment by matching skill sets for industry expectations.

The RISE project has partnered with local organizations and colleges to expand the opportunities within the program while maintaining the importance of our heritage and community connections.

Using the CTE model helps sustain programming, offers greater reimbursement and fosters learning through labs and work-based learning, which is vital for public education.

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