Here in mid-Michigan, many of us spend our daily commute passing through farmland and fields. While it makes for a peaceful landscape, there's much more involved to the science of agriculture which reaches far beyond producing crops and livestock. There are an estimated 254 different jobs where agriscience is applied. Students in the Coleman Community Schools Agriscience Program are developing unique skills that could eventually turn into a career in agriscience and an important place in our local and national economy.
Coleman Agriscience greenhouse full of plants before the annual plant sale held on May 7.
The current Coleman Agriscience Program has been in place since 2013. Marie Zwemmer was hired in 2013 as instructor and FFA advisor with the task of revitalizing the program that had been closed in the 1950s. She began teaching agriculture, food and natural resources courses and now serves as the Early College and Work-Based Learning Coordinator with a hand in Science Curriculum Development. “The main benefit of this program is that it teaches our community the vastness of Michigan/American agriculture. Many in our society fail to realize all that agriculture has to offer, it’s not just farming, and this program introduces that to students and the community members. It also gives students a hands-on opportunity to learn,” says Zwemmer.
Since 2013, it’s grown and evolved into an impressive initiative providing many opportunities to students throughout the district and even those in neighboring communities. It started as a two-year course designed for juniors and seniors focusing on agriculture, food, and the natural resource industry. It’s since expanded to a K-12 initiative.
Coleman’s campus includes an agriscience lab classroom designed by teachers and students, a greenhouse and a barn. There are also 80 acres of farmland and a seven acre land/forest lab. A collaboration with the neighboring Beaverton district and their plastics industry provides insight into an industry heavily tied to agriculture as well.
The program is strongly supported within the local community. It also benefits from local experts and business and gains help from local organizations including the Midland Area Community Foundation, Chippewa Nature Center, and Corteva. Two years ago, they were awarded the Marshall Plan for Talent Grant totalling nearly half a million dollars to be used for a variety of resources, including development of the land lab and school forest.
With continued support and resources, they’ve been able to reach the youngest of learners, starting with grain and sand sensory tables, agriculture themed books and toys in the kindergarten classrooms. The Chippewa Nature Center provides monthly agriscience lessons to K-8 classrooms which complement the current scope and sequence of the science curriculum. A mobile farm/science lab also visits middle school students and gives opportunities for hands-on learning.
The students do all of the work, some even devoting nights and weekends to caring for plants, crops and livestock.
High school students have choices on their path within the program. They can complete their 12th grade year gaining experience with classroom projects or through internships. They can also choose dual enrollment or a 5th year program to gain college credits through Delta College’s Agriculture Program. All of the students gain membership to the FFA. Some have even presented their agriscience projects at state and national conventions.
The best part of this course is that it’s completely hands-on learning. The students do all of the work, some even devoting nights and weekends to caring for plants, crops and livestock. Everything is done by students. When their produce is sold, all the money made goes right back into the program. The annual flower sale is a well known event in the community and is a great opportunity for showcasing the students’ hard work while also raising funds.
Superintendent Jen McCormack has seen the program grow and develop during her six years in the district. When asked about the benefits of the program, Jen says “There are so many benefits to this program. The leadership ability of a lot of these kids is pretty impressive. Many students are able to find their niche here. You start to see what they're capable of. Its hands-on and they're excited about it. They gain skills in presenting, resume building, and interview preparation. They’re in charge of everything and they take extreme pride in their hard work.”
This is apparent in the presence of the students in this program. The district celebrated their annual Drive Your Tractor to School Day on Friday, May 6th and offered opportunities for students to display some of their current projects.
Students Isabelle Diehl and Cristina Reger are both currently working on projects including everything involved in raising pigs. Both have pigs housed in the campus barn, which will be sold for profit at the end of the project.
Reger will be graduating this year and her future goals include going to college to pursue her dream of being in the horse industry. “I’m going to be involved in horse training, I’ll be taking some therapeutic riding classes, and hopefully one day start my own ranch with training, riding lessons, and horse therapy for veterans. This class has helped prepare me and set me on my track. Being in ag put in perspective how much I love working with livestock,” says Christina.
Diehl is currently in 10th grade and has plans to stay in the program and move on to a career in agriscience. “My hope is to go into animal nutrition,” says Isabelle.
There are many ways that the community can support the program. “Let your child get involved and take advantage of the many opportunities. Support our events like our annual flower sale. Be willing to come teach our students about their career and how students can get involved or host students job shadowing or serve as project managers,” suggests Zwemmer..
Eric Fischer has a background in forestry and has served as an Agriscience instructor for the past four years. He shares, “It's a career technical education class. We try to expose students to the agriculture industry and how it relates to careers as much as possible. The reality is, the majority will not pursue careers in farming, but they may pursue something with a connection to agriculture. My biggest mission is to make sure students have an understanding of how their needs are met in the form of food, shelter, and clothing through agriculture. 25% of the workforce is connected to agriculture, so my goal is to help students make connections to the industry.”
To learn more about Coleman Community School’s Agriscience Program, visit www.colemanschools.net/page/agriscience