By Greg Forbes, Sioux City Journal
Rachel Leavitt was puzzled about something when she took over as principal at Lawton-Bronson High School, an institution nestled in a rural Iowa community.
"My first year, I was getting the lay of the land and was surprised living in a rural community and close to ag businesses that we didn't have an ag program," said Leavitt, who assumed the position in 2010.
With the help of grant funds, including a $10,000 award sponsored by the Monsanto Fund, the Lawton-Bronson school district was able to introduce a Curriculum for Agriculture Science and Engineering, or CASE, program, establish an FFA chapter and create an ag classroom and laboratory.
This year, eighth-graders have access to a general agriculture exploratory class. High school students in the program will take animal science, agronomy and Introduction to Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resource, or AFNR, classes.
Instructor Randi Koehler said through the program, students will gain a hands-on understanding of agriculture that extends beyond food production. The school was able to incorporate models that demonstrate different types of erosion and projects that analyze parts of a flower.
Students will also have an opportunity to tour local farms and area businesses. Koehler said the array of projects and outings exposes students to a wide range of agriculture careers.
"The idea for this is to show students that there is more to agriculture than just farming," she told the Sioux City Journal. "They're starting to see that ag is a much bigger field than they realized."
Junior Kurtis Oberreuter, 16, of Bronson, said he appreciates the program because it gives him insight into a possible career.
"It is like opening a new door of learning and fun," she said. "My plan is to have some sort of agriculture-related career."
The classes, Koehler said, expand science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, options. In animal science, Koehler said, students learn to calculate how many pounds of meat they'll harvest from a live-weight animal.
Senior Brooklynn Olesen, 17 of Lawton, said the classes have expanded her desire to enter a profession related to animals.
"I've gotten to know more about the animals that are around us all the time," she said.
Leavitt added that the curriculum hit four main district goals — literacy in math, problem solving and critical thinking, leadership opportunities for students and technology. Using those goals in education that boosts a major area industry, Leavitt said, is important to not only the schools, but the community as well.
"Agriculture is America's largest employer," she said. "If we're not at least exposing students to be career ready in that, I think we are missing the boat."