Taking time to learn how green things grow
By Lynn R. Parks
Garland Hayward's hands aren't creased with chalk dust; his fingers aren't callused by repeated calculator use. Hayward is the agriculture teacher at Delmar High School. And his hands are covered with fresh potting soil.
"We are doing everything we can so that our students get a better understanding of what ag is," said Hayward, filling small pots with black soil. "We want them to know that agriculture is a science as well as an art."
Agriculture is one of eight career pathways at the high school. Students who chose the pathway take three courses: greenhouse management, advanced plant science and biological science applications in agriculture. Completion of all three courses translates into three credit hours at Delaware Technical and Community College, the University of Delaware or Delaware State University.
But things were not always rosy with the school's ag department.
"There is a decline in number of students around the state in various agriculture programs," said Harry Hoffer, Delmar School District assistant superintendent, to the point that some schools have eliminated such programs entirely. In response to declining interest at Delmar High School, the Delmar School Board recently affirmed its commitment to an agriculture sciences program. Fifteen students are currently enrolled in the pathway; Hayward would like to see that number climb to 25 by the start of next year.
"We will go wherever the numbers take us," Hoffer said. "We have made a commitment to this program and we won't put a lid on it.
"We live in an agricultural community," he added. "The board and administration feel that there should be a viable agriculture program at Delmar High School."
That does not mean, he said, that students will be learning simply how to keep rows straight in a soybean field. The study of agriculture can point a student in many different areas.
"There are two things going on: There is a decline in the number of people who are actually farming," Hoffer said. "And at the same time, there is an increase in agriculture-related fields."
Students with knowledge in agriculture can go into nursery work. They can become florists, work in the poultry industry, study nutrient management or, with the explosion of golf courses, go into turf management.
Brandon Smith, 16, is a junior on the agriculture pathway. After high school, he wants to attend college to study an as yet undecided agriculture-related field.
Ricardo Williams, 17, is also a junior on the agriculture pathway. Unlike Brandon, he is interested in going to college and becoming a policeman. "I am also interested in plants, and in knowing how they grow," he said, pushing sweet pea seeds into potting soil. "This will help me understand a lot of things."
Hayward said that he is interested in attracting students on many pathways; students interested, for example, in studying chemistry or engineering. "We are trying to go after more academic kids," he said. "This could appeal to a lot of kids because we do hands-on work."
The school is in its second year of a $186,000 grant obtained through the state department of education's School to Work/Careers program. The grant money is being used to integrate the studies of agriculture and science.
With the grant money, Charity Phillips, curriculum supervisor and also in charge of staff development, is purchasing computers and software to be used by students in agriculture and science classes.
Eventually, a computer lab will be set up as part of the agriculture department; currently, the department has a classroom, a workroom and a greenhouse.
The money is also being used to train Hayward and the school's science teachers on how to integrate their fields.
The agriculture program has sponsored a series of guest speakers from the University of Delaware Extension Service, the state's department of education and Sen. Biden's office. This week, Kristen Cook, an ag teacher at Smyrna High School, will present her students' prize-winning state fair projects.
With the University of Delaware, the school is setting up a web site, expected to be active this week, through which people can check the progress of a wheat field.
All eighth graders at Delmar Junior High School participate in a field trip to Bess' Buds, a nursery in Delmar.
"All the students are exposed to that ag-related business," Hoffer said. "In the past, not all were made aware of the possibilities in agriculture."
The direction of the agriculture program is being guided by a 20-member ag science council, made up of board members, community members, teachers, administrators, parents and students.
"I am very pleased with the efforts that are being made," Hoffer said.
"Ms. Phillips and Mr. Hayward, as well as high school counselors and the administration, are all working together to reemphasize the need for some ag program in our community. We are caught in the middle of the transition from traditional farming to ag-related fields. And we are beginning to respond very nicely to the challenge.
"We are an agriculture community, and this is a reflection of who we are."