If you didn’t know, this week plays host to a major event in the educational scene. The American Association of School Administrators will hold its annual National Conference on Education in Houston, Texas on February 16th through 19th. In celebration of this event, I would like to highlight recent strides in agricultural education at a Chicago high school and how agricultural literacy can be incorporated into a variety of core subject classrooms.
Last week Illinois Governor Pat Quinn paid a visit to Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences where he announced legislation which would boost enrollment at the school by 120 students (there’s a link to that article here). Yes, you read that last sentence right; there is a high school in the middle of Chicago that centers its entire curriculum on agriculture. Not only do students study the basic core subjects (English, Science, and Math), but they also learn how to apply those concepts to agriculture. Governor Quinn sees the promise in the school and he is pushing for more education in Illinois’s #1 industry: Agriculture. In fact, the industry accounts for nearly a quarter of all jobs in the state.
The campus may have the only working farm left within the Chicago city limits; however, that doesn’t mean these students are learning to become farmers. The students choose from five pathways (animal science, agricultural mechanics, food science, horticulture/landscape design, and agricultural finance) that allow them to personalize their education to something they are interested in. Some students become doctors, engineers, accountants, and even chefs (you can find a link to a story about a one student’s story here).
To learn about business, the students run a farm stand at the Navy Pier Flower and Garden Show with the fruits and vegetables they grow on-site. These same fruits and vegetables are used in the school’s commercial kitchen to learn about the chemistry of food. In biology class the students give a dog a workout in order to track its heart rate. All of these instances are incorporating general education topics, but they are giving context to the task.
With this hands-on approach to education, it’s no surprise that students are enjoying what they are learning and it shows long-term. Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences boasts a 92% graduation rate with 83% of those kids going on to college. That number is well above that of other Chicago Public Schools and schools statewide. The students are not only being prepared to graduate, but to eventually have the skills necessary to successfully join the workforce too.
If this method of teaching is successful at this school, shouldn’t other schools be investigating ways to incorporate agriculture into their curriculum? Through programs like Agriculture in the Classroom, elementary students are learning about Illinois’s #1 industry one classroom at a time, but shouldn’t these students have the opportunity to put context to their core education? The incorporation of agricultural literacy on a daily basis provides a not only a hands-on method to enrich the students’ learning, but also prepares the students for a future career that as many as a quarter of them will be engaged in someday.