In the Heart of the City, a Model Farm Program

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There is no football field at Walter Biddle Saul High School in the heart of Philadelphia.

But there are greenhouses, dairy and beef cattle, sheep, chickens, horses, and even an indoor fish farm.

Each of the nearly 700 urban students who attend Saul High School are "ag" majors, pursuing studies in crop production, mechanics, horticulture, natural resources, business, or animal technology.

A report on agriculture education released last week by the National Research Council praises the Philadelphia high school and a similar school in Chicago as excellent models of contemporary agriculture education. A major theme of the report is the need to make programs in the field more attractive and accessible to minority and inner-city youths. And these programs, it says, are doing that.

"Many graduates of the Walter Biddle Saul High School go on to college and careers in the agricultural sciences or other fields related to the food and fiber system," the report states.

In fact, more than half of the students at Saul go on to college, with the rest entering jobs that employ their agricultural skills in such city settings as golf courses, florists, greenhouses, nurseries, animal labs, and equine centers.

While it is too soon to assess placement rates at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences--which began classes in the fall of 1985--its founding principal, Ellen Summerfield Russell, said the school is "a success" in serving a diverse student population.

'Virtually No Dropouts'

"The school's students are 100 percent urban, 90 percent black or Hispanic, and 53 percent female," said Ms. Russell, who now teaches at the University of Illinois.

"At 93 percent, the attendance rate is one of the highest in the city," she adds, "and there are virtually no dropouts."

Ms. Russell said that 500 students apply every year for the 120 spots available at the magnet school.

The school receives broad community support, she said, because its curriculum is college preparatory, with a strong vocational component. ''We serve students with a wide range of abilities, but there is no tracking."

Like Saul High School, the Chicago school offers a variety of modern agriculture courses, such as biotechnology, agricultural finance, and food-, plant-, animal-, and computer-sciences.

'Life Lab' for Young Students

In addition to its recommendations on improving schools and pro8grams that prepare students in vocational agriculture, the report stresses the need to infuse agricultural topics into regular coursework in science, social studies, and other academic subjects. It calls such curriculum integration one way to instill "agricultural literacy."

A program that advances that goal, the report says, is "Life Lab," which began in 1978 as one teacher's special project and is now used by more than 100 elementary schools.

The program is designed to give elementary-school pupils an awareness and understanding of science and nutrition through the process of growing and tending a garden. In the course of the program, the children learn about soil, photosynthesis, interdependency, energy, pest management, and recycling.

With the garden as a living laboratory, teachers report, the students also learn such life skills as how to solve problems, cooperate, observe, keep records, and think logically.

At Green Acres Elementary School in Santa Cruz, Calif., where the program was created, students have registered achievement gains at every grade level on the science portion of the Standardized and Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills.

Other Models

Other projects cited in the report include:

The "Ag in the Classroom" program, which is the most extensive effort under way to make elementary school students more knowledgeable about food and fiber systems, according to the report.

Sponsored by the U.S. Agriculture Department, the program began in 1981 with the goal of encouraging state departments of agriculture and local Farm Bureau organizations to work with school systems in developing classroom materials on economics, nutrition, science, and social studies. Forty-seven states have developed materials as part of the program, reaching an estimated 1.2 million students.

Hereford Middle School in Monkton, Md., which has an extensive career-exploration program for junior-high students called the Agribusiness-Technology Studies Program.

In grades 7 and 8, students are required to participate in a 19-week program designed to "inform [them] about careers, instill agricultural and environmental literacy, improve academic skills, and promote responsibility and public service."

The Anderson Valley Agricultural Institute, located in the Anderson Valley High School in Boonville, Calif., which serves at-risk students from local group homes for troubled teens.

The institute enrolls about 75 students a year, and attempts to build their self-esteem while engendering an interest in agriculture. Developing an enthusiasm for agriculture, according to the report, has been able to motivate students to stay in school.

The Alvirne High School in Hudson, N.H., which has facilitated its town's transition from rural community to fast-growing suburb of Boston by expanding the curriculum to respond to local labor needs.

The school has added courses in renewable natural resources, horticulture, and agricultural mechanics, for example, to meet the demand for groundskeepers, greenskeepers, florists, and agricultural sales and service employees.

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