Though the school year has just begun, plans are already underway to start an Ag Career Academy program at Newton High School in the fall of 2018.
"Agriculture is not just farming and cattle. It is a plethora of things," said Melinda Rangel, NHS Assistant Principal and Director of Career and Technical Education.
The Ag Career Academy will prepare students for careers in agriculture and related fields such as business, mechanical engineering, animal science, biology, food science and communications.
"(Agriculture) has just a huge amount of opportunities for kids," Rangel said.
The program seemed like a good fit for NHS because of the emphasis on agriculture already in place at the elementary level at Walton Rural Life Center and additional classes taught at Chisholm Middle School.
"We felt like...we would have a population of students coming in that had an interest in that career path," Rangel said.
The Career and Technical Education department also had resources already in place that could be tapped for the Ag Career Academy.
"All of our CTE pathways have a group of industry leaders who come in and meet with our teachers twice a year," Rangel said.
The Ag Career Academy leaders have already started reaching out to other businesses and organizations such as Kansas State University and Seed to STEM that can assist in providing resources for the program.
"The networking has been phenomenal," Rangel said. "A huge, huge key of all of this is our business partners."
The Ag Career Academy will take 25 sophomores and place them together in agriculture, science, social studies and English classes.
"These four teachers would teach their core content through the lens of agriculture," Rangel said.
The students will learn concepts with a focus on agriculture that provides an overlapping, common theme relating to real-life work experiences.
"I just think the opportunities are just endless in how we can show the students how they can make connections from their core curriculum to their career," Rangel said.
Ag Career Academy students will also be required to participate in FFA activities.
"In FFA, there are competitions for students to compete in and we think that's important for communication, leadership, teamwork and collaboration — those soft skills that employers are always saying our kids need," Rangel said. "They will gain a lot of that by being an FFA member."
Being in the Ag Career Academy will not preclude students from involvement in band, sports or other activities.
"They can take their other electives," Rangel said. "We want them to take those other things. ...It's a small learning community within the big scope of the high school."
In their junior and senior years, Ag Career Academy students will have the opportunity to do career shadowing and internships.
"We are going to really work hard, during their sophomore and junior years, to identify possible careers that they are interested in," Rangel said.
Giving students a chance to observe and try their hands in agricultural careers can save them money and time after they graduate high school.
"Our goal is...when they leave us, they have a purpose and a plan. They know where they're going to go, whether it's into industry or to (college) to get a degree," Rangel said.
The Ag Career Academy is being presented to current eighth and ninth grade students.
"At the eighth grade tours, we will talk with parents at parent-teacher conferences," Rangel said. "We are really targeting this year's freshman to start as sophomores next year."
"We're trying to give them those opportunities now to explore," Rangel said. "They can read about it all day long and see it sensationalized on TV, but it's not until they are actually there and see it firsthand does it help them make some real decisions for themselves."
Much work is being done to plan out the convergence of the courses that will be taught for the Ag Career Academy students.
"We're super pumped. I hope it goes like we envision," Rangel said. "I have a fantastic team of teachers who have so much energy."
Rangel said if the Ag Career Academy proves successful, NHS could opt to use the same process for other career fields as well.