A curriculum based on agriculture is exciting students in rural areas.
It’s a morning ritual at Walton 21st Century Rural Life Center, whose focus on agriculture saved it from closing. The school now attracts a steady stream of visitors from around the country who watch students learn through projects that range from selling eggs to showing pigs at the county fair.
The farm curriculum, although still relatively unusual, has been replicated in other Kansas schools and proven successful in more urban environments, including Chicago and Philadelphia.
“Kids love it,” said Walton Principal Natise Vogt, adding that the students fight over cleaning up the animals’ droppings. “That’s one of the things that’s important to us. We want kids to enjoy school. We want them to be happy and want to come to school, and that’s what the hands-on learning does.”
Located in a farming community of 235 people, the Walton school had barely 80 students when the school district decided to transform the kindergarten to fourth-grade building into an agriculture-focused charter school. Since making the switch in 2007, enrollment has grown to 183 students.
Only about 10 percent of the students at the school about 30 miles north of Wichita live on farms. But all of the kids beg to give Freckles the calf his bottle and Eeyore the donkey his breakfast ration.
Cody Eye, 10, of Newton, said students learn math by measuring food and make money for the school by selling the animals.
“It teaches us responsibility,” he said. “It teaches us how to take care of animals.”
The school’s profile got a boost when the U.S. Department of Education, which provided a grant to get the school started, produced a video about the transformation. The community also bought into the project, with one farmer donating runt pigs and another loaning the donkey during the school year.
Today, parents frequently call the school, eager to nab a spot for their children; one of the latest additions to the waiting list was a 3-week-old baby.
The farming theme also has a long track record of success at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, where students care for piglets, chickens and horses and grow plants. More than 3,000 students apply each year for about 180 freshman-class openings, principal William Hook said.
“The nice thing is that even the kids who never revisit the idea of agriculture; they still benefit from their ag education, the ideals of get up early, work hard and stay late,” Hook said.
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