Green education: Eureka Springs School District receives grant for agricultural education program

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Eureka Springs School District will look a little different over the next year.

Superintendent Bryan Pruitt reported Monday that the district recently received a grant to start an agricultural education program, including plans to build a greenhouse. Pruitt said the district was hoping to receive $80,000 from the state but ended up receiving a little under $110,000.

“We were ranked number one in the career tech department, which is the program where the agricultural science programs are. We were their number one ranked program,” Pruitt said. “We were the top-funded program.”

Pruitt said the grant covers 80 percent of the cost, with the school district required to take on the remaining 20 percent.

“I don’t think that’s going to be an issue for us at all. We’ve got the funds for that,” Pruitt said.

On Thursday, April 6, Pruitt accompanied Chris Bacchus, the public school program adviser for the Arkansas Department of Career Education, to a meeting of the Eureka Springs Rotary Club. Pruitt told the club about the grant and introduced Bacchus, who explained how an agricultural education program works.

There are three major parts to the program, Bacchus said. He said students will first immerse themselves in agriculture classes, and these classes will vary in subject.

“They’re going to learn a little bit about all the areas of the agricultural industry,” Bacchus said. “They’re going to learn plant science. One of those courses will be a very scientific course where they will be learning about the production of it and why it works that way.”

He added, “Why do plants respond to light? Why do they respond differently to water? The students will learn all the science behind that.”

The plant science course should count as a science credit for the students, Bacchus said, giving them even more reason to get enrolled in the program. After the students learn how plants work, Bacchus said, they will start working in the greenhouse.

“That’s where they get their hands dirty and apply their skills. They can do it from a research standpoint. They can really do some different studies,” Bacchus said. “We have students all over the state doing ag science research.”

Another benefit of the greenhouse, he said, is actually growing vegetables, fruit and flowers. Bacchus said students can sell these goods to the community.

“They can provide that service to the community, maybe flowers you can plant in your garden. Maybe that’s something you can look forward to next spring,” Bacchus said.

The last major component of the program, Bacchus said, is project-based learning. He said the students will take on a project of their choice, from mowing lawns to providing vegetables for local restaurants.

“Students can get true industry experience with businesses in the community to not only learn and apply what they learn but provide a service,” Bacchus said. “It truly is the piece where the students connect with the community itself.”

Through these projects, Bacchus said, he has seen students learn how to run businesses. He recalled working with students in the past and realizing they knew certain accounting concepts.

“None of them had an accounting class but because of that project and the records they kept, we had a common understanding on financial literacy,” Bacchus said. “Some of those projects can really build into their future.”

Bacchus remembered the project he worked on when he was in school, saying he’s grateful he had the chance to do that.

“My project was more animal-science related. I had sheep and cattle. That’s how I paid my way through college,” Bacchus said. “I didn’t have any debt when I graduated because I got paid through the sheep and calves I produced.”

Pruitt said Monday he’s looking forward to giving students an opportunity to make extra money through projects like this. He said students could work with the local farmers market or start up some other small business.

“They can make some money on the side, to maybe have a little money put away before they go to college or have some money made for whatever their plan is when they leave high school,” Pruitt said. “I’m not saying every kid is going to be making money, but it’s an opportunity for them.”

The business concepts students learn through these projects, Pruitt said, are invaluable.

“They learn and grow from each one of these opportunities. When they utilize opportunities and tie them together, it’s unlimited what our students can do,” Pruitt said. “We have staff here to lead them in the right direction. It’s an exciting time for them.”

He said the school has solicited bids for the greenhouse, saying the greenhouse won’t be what some people might imagine.

“It’ll be a new innovative greenhouse. This one will have the latest technology in it. It will have an irrigation system in it. It has temperature control, and you can do that from your phone,” Pruitt said. “It has an alarm system to contact a teacher to tell them something’s not right.”

The school is waiting to finalize some plans, Pruitt said. He said this is common when it comes to public school projects.

“That’s what’s frustrating in the school business is a lot of times things tend to move at a snail’s pace because of all the rules and regulations,” he said. “As soon as we get approval back from our architect, we’ll be ready to look at bids for the foundation on the greenhouse.”

He said the program will give the school district something else to be proud of.

“I think it’s going to be a great pride builder for our students and our school. Once our kids get involved with that and they start learning that program, they’re going to take a lot of pride in it,” Pruitt said.

He thanked the members of the Eureka Springs School Board, saying none of this would be possible without them.

“If it weren’t for the school board, we couldn’t do this program. The school board is interested in our kids,” Pruitt said. “It’s a win-win for everybody. Once we get this thing going … we’re just excited about these opportunities for the future.”

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