A Texas ag teacher goes against the grain to help his students succeed in agriculture mechanics
After watching his students lose money on livestock projects year after year, Jay Newton decided enough was enough. In the past 10 years, he has transitioned the focus of the agriculture program at Vega High School in Vega, Texas, away from livestock to mechanics.
The shift has paid off for 513 students who have competed with 235 projects in those 10 years, earning a total of $145,000 in scholarships and more than $172,000 in prizes.
Boys and girls ranging from third to 12th grade have built several projects, including a 200-ton hydraulic press brake, multiple semi trailers, lots of electrical equipment, hay bale trailers and round bale tub grinders.
In February, Newton and 21 students entered 14 projects in the Junior Agriculture Mechanics Show at the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo. Their 45' shop on wheels was awarded Grand Champion honors. The trailer, which cost $60,000 in materials, was built for Cactus Feeders, a company that has supported the program for five years, to repair feed mills and install equipment at its feedyards.
The students put in more than 2,100 hours to design and construct the trailer. "We have two class periods a day in the shop. Four weeks into building the trailer, we started working after school until 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. and then later in the year we started working Saturdays and even later into the evening," says senior Austin Abbot, who transferred schools to be part of the unique agriculture mechanics program. "It was a lot of work, but it brought a lot of success to my life."
Vega High School students invested more than 2,100 hours in building a 45' shop on wheels for Cactus Feeders.
Landon Friemel, who was part of the original ag mechanics team and won the school’s first championship title in 2003 with a 90' broadcast sprayer built with his brother, says that he still benefits from the program daily. He credits it with improving his mechanical and public speaking skills. It also gave him the opportunity to build relationships with many people who are his business contacts today.
Newton has been teaching at Vega High School for 20 years. His goal all along has been for his students to learn about responsibility while also reaping financial gain.
"It was a dream I had for my students, and it has become my passion," Newton says. "This program ensures that regardless of their career choice, they will be able to get a job to feed their family. I have students who are now teachers, engineers, farmers, stock brokers, pharmacists and welders."