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Newark’s agricultural program more than just ‘growing plants’

by WayneTimes.com
April 27, 2024

During a presentation to the Board of Education earlier this school year, BOE members were each given some Spring Mix lettuce grown by the sixth, seventh and eighth graders in the newly established Agricultural Program at Newark Middle School.

However the program, which replaced the technology program previously taught at Newark Middle School, encompasses far more than just growing plants. Students are taught valuable skills that often go far beyond farming.

“Agriculture is the leading employer in the world. Our Newark community has many ties to agriculture that we wanted to give students the ability to explore. Agriculture is all around us and is something that promotes lifelong skills for the Newark Middle School students,” said Amy Molinari, who teaches the Ag Program classes with Susan Yancey.

 During the first half of this school year, 139 sixth graders who are required to take Ag classes every other day for 20 weeks and 129 seventh graders and 139 eighth graders who are required to take Ag classes every other day for the entire school year have been continuously involved in learning these skills through:

• Career readiness:  In effect since day one, students enter the classroom and use a time sheet to “clock in and clock out” at their  “Job.” Amy Molinari, who teaches the Ag program with Susan Yancey said students “understand this class is ‘work’ and the expectations are that of any job. “Students calculate the minutes, the portion of the hour and find their own gross pay based on the hourly wage. We plan to explain taxes later. This is their paycheck, the ‘money’ they use at the school store. This incentive encourages students to be on time to class and supports less absences. This is career readiness and integration of mathematics. They also use a banking register to track deposits and withdrawals.

 • Past projects: “Included tree identification during which students harvested leaves, bark, took pictures and did a presentation.”

• Dissecting fruit and harvesting seeds: Students planted pumpkin, strawberry, tomato and green pepper seeds and kept logs of the germination and growth processes. “We were awarded an Agricultural Education Incentive Grant for New Programs through New York Agricultural Education and Outreach and utilized the funds to purchase two indoor, 4-level growing systems. With this we were able to grow lettuce and other greens that we shared with students to eat. They reaped the benefit of their harvest. We also used the system to watch the germination of our fruit that was dissected. Most students have taken their plants home and report that they are doing well and use the log. Additionally, students have researched agricultural careers, natural resources, various types of agricultural commodities, and technology used in agriculture.  “All were supported by a presentation of the student’s choice,” Molinari said. 

• Projects this Spring have included: Sixth graders  researching service animals used to support humans in some capacity to include needed training, longevity, types of animals and many other facets of the agricultural industry. Seventh graders learning about conservation of backyard birds with a strong focus on the Eastern Blue Bird. Students have done a Backyard Bird Bingo search and watch using binoculars; virtual dissection of the species through Cornell University; learning about habitats, behavior, food etc. Students will then create bird houses by putting kits together that we worked on collaboratively with the technology classes taught by Eric Hart at Newark High School. Eighth graders researching sustainable construction materials and their uses and creating concrete stepping stones to be placed in the NMS courtyard. Students are learning about proper PPE (personal protective equipment), how to mix concrete, how to use forms and how to decorate using mostly natural materials collected during outdoor exploration.

• Future Plans: Creating a vegetable garden in the NMS courtyard, a PVC green house, walking paths, a place for students and staff to enjoy lunch or a study area. 

“The students have a lot of great ideas for the space to make it beautiful and a hands-on agricultural experience to be enjoyed by all,” Molinari said.“The outpouring of support from the community, as well as the school district regarding the Ag Program  has been such a positive reinforcement for our students. There has also been outreach to many community members to strengthen community/school relationships.” 

"We are very excited about the Agriculture program and its potential,” said NHS Principal John Ginter. “It is something that is continuing to be built thanks to the outstanding dedication of our teachers. The students in the course are gaining career readiness skills that will last a lifetime. We very much look forward to the growth and what this program can do for our students and community."  

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