Number 6: This is not your grandfather's ag center

Remember when the Ag Center at Housatonic Valley Regional High School was regarded as a place where the subject was dairy farming and little else? It was cows and plows back then. But today it is the Center for Agricultural Science and Technology.

What does that mean? It means that students learn to care for horses and small animals in pre-vet courses; they study natural resources, forestry, wildlife, and mechanical engineering; they raise fish and they raise flowers. As they have for years, they learn valuable life skills, such as public speaking, parliamentary procedure and equipment operation.

But all this learning does not occur in the abstract. It is directed to real-world applications. Students work on career development event teams that compete with those from other ag centers in the state and, if they qualify, the region and the nation.

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Our ag center has a number of very successful teams in different categories. This column will focus on just one of them, the Floriculture Team. Made up of students Heather Burkhart, Riley Hart, Andrea Jasmine, Andrea Kleinsasser and Virginia Cipolla, they had to prepare for these areas of competition: identifying plants, a written exam on general knowledge, problem solving and decision making, a hands-on practicum (which this year meant that they had to propagate plants asexually, handle a customer complaint, identify and control plant disorders, and design and arrange several floral pieces), a job interview, a telephone sale, and media selling (promoting a product in front of a TV camera).

Working toward the competition at the state level in November 2006, they met in regular sessions after school and even into the summer months. Their hard work paid off when they finished first in the state.

But it would be a long haul to the next test at the Eastern States Exposition in September 2007. They continued to prepare, and in this regional competition, they again finished first. Then it was on to the national competition in late October 2007, where they finished fourth in the United States. Not bad for five kids from a little high school in northwest Connecticut.

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About them their teacher/mentor David Moran had this to say: "We as a staff are very proud of these students. They have been dedicated and enthusiastic over a long period of time. Their individual skills and abilities blended into a group effort that made them successful. But more significant than any recognition they won is the personal growth they achieved. That is what this is all about. And we thank all those in this community, both in and out of school, who have been generous in their support of our efforts."

Some final points. This is just another example of remarkable student achievement at our high school. In terms of learning theory, please note that these students are being called upon to use, to apply, what they have learned. That is when it becomes their own.


Jack Mahoney was a high school teacher for 21 years and a high school principal for 12 years. He is an education consultant who has made a study of schooling in the United States.

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