Southwest Licking Schools is launching a new elective agricultural education offering that will kick off in Watkins Middle School this year, with plans to expand into the high school next year.
Deanna Karpuc, agriculture coordinator, explained, “It’s a brand new program, we’re starting from the ground up. We’re going to build support in the middle school where we’re going to get students excited about it and give them an introduction to agriculture. Hopefully, those eighth-graders will continue into high school and they can continue to follow that pathway if they choose.”
Karpuc said students, “Will get a really good overview of what it’s going to be like once they get into high school. We’re going to do a little bit of food science, we’re going to be doing some horticulture. Hopefully we will be able to get our green house going and be able to do some planting in the green house. We’ll be doing aquaponics and hydroponics, soil testing…they’re going to get a good mix of just kind of everything.”
Students will also get an education in planning, designing and reading plans. “We will have projects where the students will actually be planning out the garden and actually building it,” Karpuc said. “I think we would like to eventually get to the point where we would have small animals that we care for…and raise different animals.”
Community connections fostered
Superintendent Dr. Kasey Perkins said of the decision to create the new elective offering, “I just felt like this was something the community was lacking and when you’re talking about opportunities for kids, I think it’s an opportunity that we can provide in school that also has a lot of connections within our community.”
Karpuc added, “The traditional pathway is not for every student. This will give them another opportunity, another pathway. When they get out of high school, they can use these skills even if they don’t continue into Ag for their careers. There are a lot of 21st Century skills that they are going to learn through this program that they will be able to use in whatever career they choose.”
Perkins said, “One thing we’re hoping this program brings is that direct connection into the community…we’re hoping this greenhouse allows us to provide vegetables and healthy options to our food insecure families. We’re hoping to connect this to the Healthy Kids Network, where we can have a partnership with them and deliver food year ‘round and in the summer to our families. We’d like to start out adding fresh vegetables to that with the local food pantries as well as in our own cafeterias.”
She also said, “When we talk about expansion and how this program is going to grow, we really want this community to have connections and to help our own families.”
Some of those connections already established include C-TEC and seeking means to incorporate career connections into the new Southwest Licking Ag offering. There have also been discussions with the Licking County Master Gardeners and with Licking County Soil and Water, and the district is hopeful to connect with local farmers.
Grant sought; community can vote online
The district is currently in a grant process that could bring grant money in to help pay for the new greenhouse that would be located next to the middle school (or former high school) on Watkins Road.
Perkins explained, “We wrote a grant. It’s called the ‘State Farm Neighborhood Assist Grant’. There were over 2,000 submissions and ours was one of 200 selected to go to the voters. Of those 200, 40 will be selected to win a $25,000 grant.
“Our grant application is based on paying for a greenhouse,” she continued. “We have already worked with our architectural firm (on a design).”
Karpuc said, “That will allow us to grow those vegetables, year-round.”
Voting runs from Aug. 18-27, and those over the age of 18 can vote each day, up to 10 times a day, Perkins said.
“We were excited to be chosen as one of the 200, and we’re really eager and hope our community will support this plan and vote to fund our greenhouse,” Perkins said.