February 2018
Youth Matters

FFA Sentinel: Building Beyond the Classroom

Baldwin County High agriscience program continues to grow in participation and facilities.

 

James and Cathy Phillips of Bay Minette recently donated a calf to the ag program at Baldwin County High School. Students will care for the calf as part of their classroom studies. The agriscience program has grown tremendously in the past few years and now has over 300 students enrolled in a variety of classes.

The scenery is changing at Baldwin County High School in Bay Minette. Drive by the campus on any given school day and you will likely see the Tiger Band practicing outdoors and various sports teams honing their skills. You’re also bound to find the school’s agriscience students tending to livestock and crops as part of an ever-expanding course of study.

The agriscience program at BCHS has exploded, more than doubling its enrollment in just three years, and is expanding its reach beyond the classroom. Under the leadership of David Garrett, the program has turned its focus to agriculture-related courses and the students are reaping the benefits.

"I started out teaching landscape-type classes, but shortly after I discovered our kids at BCHS had more of a farm background," Garrett recalled. "I wanted to expose them to as much of a farmlike atmosphere as possible."

That transformation began by utilizing an existing, but underused, on-campus pavilion that had been taken over by weeds and limbs.

"That first year, we basically built a small livestock area that could host some domesticated hogs or goats, and maybe some chickens," he explained. "We also built a vegetable garden area.

"We also used the first year to make our woodshop one of the focus points of the program. We make teacher plaques, picnic tables and other little projects."

The following year, the program expanded its livestock area and started planting crops.

"We grew peanuts that we harvested by hand and had a huge peanut boil," he said. "We continued building our picnic tables, and started student projects such as building corn hole sets.

"We also purchased our first heifer calf named Lily."

In one year, the program grew from 156 to 181 students. There are now 361 students enrolled in the agriscience program and the school has added a second teaching unit, bringing on Andrew Jones, who has 17 years of ag-teaching experience.

BCHS Principal Craig Smith said he decided to expand the ag program because of a student survey showing a big interest in that field.

"The key to this elective being a success was finding the right person to start the program," Smith said. "We knew we needed a go-getter who could connect with our kids and get them motivated. We found that person in Mr. Garrett. He actually promised in his initial interview that if he was brought on staff he would have so many students interested we would have to hire another teacher after the second year. And he was right!"

During a visit to Auburn University, students toured the College of Agriculture.

 

With the addition of Jones, Smith said he is looking for tremendous things out of this department.

"They are both great working with our kids and have a great vision for their program," he said.

Garrett credits the program’s success to the hands-on approach the school offers students.

"We not only spend time in our classroom teaching FFA history and safety," he explained, "but we also teach about synchronizing cattle. Then we get out and look at live cattle. We use the farm as a teaching tool.

"We do a lot of outside work, but we do it so that we can simply teach our kids about work. We are trying to get the next generation to understand that without hard work you cannot accomplish much."

Garrett pointed to the school’s accomplishments with great pride, giving credit to the administration and students who put in the sweat equity.

"All of the facilities on our BCHS FFA Farm were built and have been maintained by students," he noted. "We built all the fences, put in all the posts, and have planted and harvested crops. Students enjoy the challenge of taking care of livestock and crops."

They have also enjoyed learning practical skills they can utilize throughout their lives.

"The students in our program get a good working knowledge of how plants grow and what all it takes to put forth the effort to grow vegetables at home," he added. "We try hard to make sure our students learn that the work taking place at school can also go on at home.

"We try to make sure all of our kids can go home and grow food that their family can eat."

Hayden Peacock has been in the program all four years of high school, including one year at North Baldwin Center for Technology. He has worked a part-time job baling and raking hay. His boss also owned horses and cows, sparking an interest to better understand the process to care for them.

"I always liked learning more about them (livestock)," Peacock said. "This is where the ag program comes into play. It helped me learn more about the process of a cow’s life and the process of livestock in general."

Garrett’s classroom goes beyond the traditional training, Peacock said, and that’s why he has stayed involved even though he has already taken every single course offered. Now in his senior year, Peacock spends his leadership class working in the agriscience program. He encourages other students to give it a shot because it’s a lot more interesting than they think.

 

David Lacey and Mary Elyse Allen show off their new calf, Ritchie the Ribeye. Students in the agriscience program tend to livestock as part of their studies and also cultivate crops on campus.

"If people go into that room and never learn one thing about ag, they will learn one thing in Mr. Garrett’s class … and that is respect," Peacock said. "He does more than just teach us about the process of working with cows, horses, pigs and chickens. He cares about every single person in that room and makes it a point that he wants to see us succeed."

Mary Elyse Allen has been part of the program for two years and said it has helped shape her career goal of becoming a veterinarian.

"What I like most about this ag program is the people I work with and the things we do such as working with livestock and planting plants," she said.

The students also get to take part in numerous field trips, Allen said, that provide additional educational opportunities.

The students recently visited Auburn University and toured the College of Agriculture.

Allen will also be part of a group of students traveling to the FFA National Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana.

"I also love my ag teachers," she said. "They do an excellent job of teaching us.

"I’m really looking forward to my next two years being a part of this ag program."

With a wealth of success already under his belt, Garrett said he is not done dreaming. He has a wish list for facilities and supplies, and wants to continue to add to the courses and opportunities available to students.

"In the future, we want to offer our students an opportunity to raise and show their own livestock at some local county fairs," he said. "We are in need of a show barn, more grazing pasture and livestock."

For more information on this program or how you can help, contact David Garrett at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call the school office at 251-937-2341.

 

 

Tina Covington is a freelance writer from the Baldwin County area.