As various public officials finished their remarks at the ribbon cutting ceremony for an agricultural high school that opened this year in St. Johnsville, several students from the inaugural class climbed the stage to tell the crowd of parents, school officials and dignitaries why they were excited for the coming school year.
Hayden Casler from Canajoharie said his grandfather was a third-generation dairy farmer who grew up on a farm with 13 siblings. Casler is looking to follow his grandfather’s lead by becoming a dairy nutritionist.
Kristen Quist from Amsterdam said one of her favorite things about the school is their project-based learning model, which involves problem-solving in groups and pushes students “out of our comfort zones so that we’re ready for the real world.”
Fifty-one students, all freshmen, then gathered in front of David H. Robinson Elementary in St. Johnsville, where the program is based, and cut a ribbon signifying that the school is open for business.
The program, known formally as the Agriculture Pathways in Technology Early College High School – or Ag PTECH – is jointly funded by the Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville Central School District and a state grant that was awarded last year. Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES is the organization that implemented the program.
$21 million is being provided for the program as part of a state grant providing funding for early college high schools across New York. The school district provides another $11,500 per student every year. Ag PTECH principal Kristy Shafer said school officials have a plan to sustainably continue the program after the grant period ends.
Ag PTECH is a six-year program that focuses on nine career paths in agriculture, from agriculture business and science to biological technology and sustainable crop production.
Years one and two are spent in St. Johnsville completing high school required courses and earning six credits with SUNY Cobleskill through the school’s partnership with the university.
Shafer anticipates Ag PTECH students will begin attending SUNY Cobleskill in their junior year and continue on through their senior year, taking high school and college level courses on campus.
Upon graduation from Ag PTECH, many students will be just one year away from attaining their two-year associate’s degree at SUNY Cobleskill due to the amount of college credits they attain in high school, she said.
“I would anticipate that most of our students will only need one year after graduating high school to finish their associate’s degree because they’ll have earned so many credits already in ninth through twelfth grade,” said Shafer.
Shafer said the school’s nearly two dozen business partners, who are all based regionally, don’t guarantee any Ag PTECH graduates a job, but they do offer internships and guarantee interviews if job openings become available.
“Hopefully our students have performed really well in internships – shadowing, mentoring – and are the shoe-in for that job, but they don’t have to guarantee them jobs,” said Shafer.
Some of those business partners include Goderie’s Tree Farm, Bellinger’s Orchard, Little Falls Veterinary Clinic and Hulten Speed Sports, as well as organizations like the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie Counties Workforce Solutions Centers.
One of the distinctive characteristics of Ag PTECH is that there is no textbook-based learning at the school. Students are provided with Chromebook laptops for use in school and at home.
Chromebooks are laptop computers designed to run on Google’s Chrome operating system, and are primarily used while connected to the internet, with storage and applications functioning online.
Shafer said Ag PTECH is a “paper-worthy environment,” meaning an instructor or class can use scrap paper to illustrate or work out a problem if needed, “but very sparingly.” As a result, the school does not have reams of paper or printers for use by students or administration. Shafer said the idea is to promote a philosophy of “high-tech integration in the workplace.”
“When we listen to our business partners and hear them talk, they’ve gone away from paper more,” she said. “If you think about, like, a traveling dairy nutritionist, they’re working from a computer farm to farm, they’re not working on a piece of paper and jotting things down.”
Student Jack Robinson from Gloversville said “it’s a little weird” to work without textbooks, but he won’t miss lugging them from class to class in a backpack.
Another student, Ashton Cain, from Broadalbin, said students still get project-based homework that they can complete on their Chromebooks.
Like their classmates who addressed the assembly, Robinson and Cain came to Ag PTECH because of their interest in working in the physical environment.
“I really want to do marine biology so [Ag PTECH] can get me started,” said Robinson. “That’s why I wanted to come here.”
“I like outdoors, agriculture, that kind of thing,” said Cain, noting that he had plans to attend a different PTECH school that’s focused more on science, engineering, technology and math as opposed to agriculture. “Then I heard about this, and this is more outdoorsy than the other one, so I decided to come to this.”
Cain said the school is small for a high school, “but I like it small. [It was] a little bit nerve-wracking coming to a new school but we’re not going to be the ones getting nervous, it’s the next kids [coming in], but we can teach them about what we had to do like last year.”
Shafer said the school offers three courses in English language arts, math and agriculture, and all of the courses are very hands-on.
“Even [English language arts] and math, probably 90 percent of their instruction is related back to agriculture,” said Shafer.
“We’re still building some pieces,” she added, “we’ve got some plants in the ground outside, we’ve got some animals in the classroom, and as we kind of amp up and bring more things in it will get more hands-on, but it’s already vastly hands-on.”
For more information about Ag PTECH visit http://www.hfmboces.org/agptech.
Reach Gazette reporter Dan Fitzsimmons at 852-9605, [email protected] or @DanFitzsimmons on Twitter.