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Ag School is in Session
Rural families of the past had very few choices when it came to educating their children. Today, the options are expanding, and education is taking a much more personalized approach.
Charter schools have long been an option for urban students, and they are beginning to appear in smaller towns and rural communities, as well. These independently managed public schools teach students the basics, but many also offer a specific focus on the arts, college prep, or other interests.
New way to learn
The Indiana Agriculture & Technology School is a new charter school that combines online learning with in-person, hands-on experiences that focus on agriculture. Chief Academic Officer Keith Marsh says the school is open to all Indiana students in grades 7 through 12. “Our total enrollment is capped at 550 right now. We want to start small so we can build a quality program,” he says. “It’s important that we’re doing this the right way because it hasn’t been done before.”
The actual coursework is done from home. A state-certified lead teacher provides online instruction in each subject area through prerecorded lesson plans. This allows students to work at their own pace and lets them stop to talk with the teacher or a tutor if they need help. While many charter schools are in session year-round, Marsh says his school has a set calendar for the first and last day of school, and the year is broken up into quarters. “This provides a sequence of learning, so we know that on this particular day, students are working on this lesson.”
Once a month, students will be transported to the school’s campus in Morgantown, Indiana. The 600-acre farm (pictured above) includes 200 acres each of forest, pasture, and cropland. Here, the students will get to know each other in person and experience hands-on learning as they dive deeper into the areas that interest them.
“We do project-based learning on the farm, and the students go home and can put that knowledge into their course of study,” Marsh says. “We have a farm plus we’re a virtual program, so that makes us unique.”
One interesting program the school offers is drone certification, working with the Unmanned Safety Institute. All juniors are enrolled in a year-long drone program. They take the FAA test at the end of the year, which certifies them as drone pilots. Seniors work to become proficient in visual stick flying. “We’re the first high school in Indiana to offer this type of drone program,” Marsh says. “They can put that knowledge in their back pocket and use it anywhere.”
While this type of education is appealing to farm kids, Marsh says not all of his students come from an agricultural background, and most of them will not go on to become farmers. “It’s amazing how many careers tie into agriculture and technology,” he says. “Once kids see all the avenues they can take and all the career possibilities out there, they get really excited.”
Focus on success
Marsh says the school is set up so students have multiple adults as part of their team. In addition to lead teachers and tutors, students have access to a success coach, who helps them with prioritizing and time management. Counselors help students and their families organize and prioritize their educational options based on learning ability.
The teams are managed by student learning advocates, state-certified teachers who work out of the main campus. “We designed the program so we know we’re connected with the students on a daily basis,” Marsh says. “We track their data every day, discuss how they are progressing at weekly meetings, and communicate that to the parents.”
The counselors can also recommend Advanced Placement (AP) courses that are offered through the online program, as well as dual credits. Some students are even able to work ahead and graduate early.
The school’s guidance and career counselors work with students to help prepare them for whatever their plans are after high school – whether it’s farming, going into a trade, community college, or a four-year college. “We offer career pathways to the students through our partnerships with agribusinesses and other corporations, which can turn into career opportunities after graduation,” Marsh says.
What is a charter school?
The U.S. Department of Education defines charter schools as independently managed, publicly funded schools operating under a contract between the school and the state. They have autonomy over their curriculum, personnel, budget, and schedule, and do not charge for tuition. There are more than 2.8 million American students in charter schools in 43 states.
Visit https://indiana.ag to learn more about the Indiana Agriculture & Technology School and to take a virtual tour of the farm campus.