Ag teacher plants seeds for new program in Eureka Springs

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Eureka Springs School District is growing a new agriculture program.

The district received a grant earlier this year to build a greenhouse for the program, and new agriculture teacher Jason McAfee said the greenhouse could be built as soon as this fall. Ideally, McAfee said, the greenhouse will run year-round.

“This is just one tool and one outlet for teaching the students sustainability,” McAfee said.

The students will sell the fresh produce, McAfee said, and could even work with school nutritionists to incorporate the produce into breakfast and lunch across the district.

“That’s just an idea right now, but I hope to work with the nutritionists and give back to the school, so the students can see what they’ve produced being utilized on a school level,” he said.

McAfee said he will be teaching Survey of Agriculture, Intro to World Agriculture, a leadership class and a class on landscape and nursery.

“I want the classroom to be built on project-based learning, so I will be tying that in with many of my classes,” he said. “It’s not all about just being in the classroom. There’s a lot of outside-the-classroom experiences. We’re talking field trips, working in the greenhouse and doing research projects.”

McAfee described how agriculture education works, saying it’s divided into three components: lab instruction, supervised agricultural experiences and the FFA Organization. It starts in the classroom, McAfee said, but agriculture students learn much more by working on projects at school and within the community.

“Supervised agricultural experiences are in a way like an internship, but they aren’t necessarily an internship,” McAfee said. “They can be short. It’s anything

the students can do that is agriculture-related.”

One of the things he’s most looking forward to, McAfee said, is kicking off the Eureka Springs chapter of FFA Organization. He explained how the organization has evolved over the years, saying the name changed from Future Farmers of American to FFA Organization in 1988.

“In FFA, we don’t just talk about future farmers anymore. We talk about future engineers, future chemists and future biologist,” McAfee said. “It incorporates all of science now.”

The reason for that, he said, is that agriculture has become diverse over time.

“It has diversified so much in so many sectors. It now brings in all these other base components of knowledge,” McAfee said.

When it comes to agriculture education, McAfee explained, everything goes back to science.

“It’s an applied science. We basically take all the other classes and the things students are learning and apply them to the agriculture setting,” he said. “We’ve got chemistry and physiology. We’re trying to incorporate all the things they’re learning in school to agriculture.”

McAfee said he hopes students get involved with FFA, because it’s the leadership component of agriculture education. It’s important, McAfee said, for students to become good leaders.

“The program itself … its vision stands for growing leaders, building communities and strengthening agriculture,” McAfee said. “It’s a year-round program. They’ll be going on field trips, and they’ll be competing with other local schools with FFA chapters.”

He continued, “It’s a chance for students to build on skills and the things they learn in the classroom. FFA is all about being a team, and these are team-oriented events. It really helps them build those team skills and leadership skills. That’s a big part of FFA.”

Through FFA, McAfee said, students can earn degrees on a local or state level. These degrees include Discovery, Greenhand and Chapter.

“They can earn a degree as low as middle school starting with the Discovery,” McAfee said.

The agriculture program will start at the eighth-grade level, McAfee said, so students can get involved with FFA before entering high school.

“They will already have an idea of what agriculture education is and what it has to offer,” McAfee said.

One of the challenges he will be facing, McAfee said, is getting students involved in FFA.

“We officially have an FFA Organization established here in Eureka, but right now we’re just considered a number,” McAfee said. “This is where we are, and hopefully we’ll find students to recruit and get them involved.”

He described the main focus of Eureka Springs’ agriculture program, saying it centers around plant systems. Most importantly, McAfee said, the program is open to anyone who might be interested in it.

“It’s geared toward all students, no matter what their plans are, but it’s my hope that it will help them plan future careers,” McAfee said. “Even if it’s not agriculture, these classes will help them build skills they can apply to any other job out there, and that is very important. I hope to help students build confidence and help them feel more comfortable in public speaking environments.”

McAfee, who graduated from Harrison High School in 1997, said he has worked as a research specialist for the past 14 years. When the job opened up in Eureka Springs, McAfee said, he knew he had to take it.

“I saw this as an opportunity to create the foundation for a new chapter in a place I find very unique and have always been drawn to,” McAfee said. “I just felt this pull here, and I’m glad to be here.”

His deepest hope, McAfee said, is that the community welcomes the agriculture program with open arms.

“I want the community to know me and feel comfortable to approach me if they have ideas. I can’t make any promises, but if you’ve got a good idea, let me know,” McAfee said. “The community is the foundation everything is built on. That’s where it all comes full circle, and we need that cooperation to make it a successful chapter.”

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