SILOAM SPRINGS -- Agriculture classes are known for providing students with hands-on learning, which can be a challenge while schools are closed for in-person instruction.
To compensate, teachers are gearing assignments toward daily life and many students are continuing their projects at home with the added bonus of having extra time to spend with their animals or in the garden.
Senior Taylor Davis, president of Siloam Springs High School's FFA chapter, has missed the Arkansas FFA State Convention earlier this month, as well as judging competitions, service projects and spending time with her classmates, but she has also found more time to start her own raised flower garden and spend with her horses.
The projects are helping Davis fill her time while she is stuck at home and give her a break while encouraging her to get outside, she said. Working more on her own has also taught her management skills, she said.
The hours Davis, and other students, spend working with their projects at home count towards their supervised agriculture experiences for ag classes and FFA, according to teacher Kendra Woodlee.
While ag students are missing out on attending events such as the state FFA convention and competitions, what they are really missing is the hands-on learning opportunities they find in the school shop and greenhouse.
"It's been really hard on some students," she said. "I think a lot of students learn better that way and it's a lot more fun."
Some students don't have access to livestock or live on a farm, so their projects are entirely at school, Woodlee said. Teachers school-wide are trying to make sure students are still doing their work even though they are at home, she said.
In ag classes, teachers are trying to give students fun assignments that relate to their lives at home, she said. For example, in plant science classes, students are given the assignment of tracking a plant and its growth, whether it is a houseplant or a vegetable plant in their garden, she said.
Many of the students Woodlee has talked with -- who have the resources to do projects at home -- are finding more time to work on them, she said. One student even created a how-to video teaching other people how to tune-up a dirt bike, she said.
"They are still learning stuff at home even if it's not something we are assigning," Woodlee said. "We are really proud of that."
Junior Zane Bland, who serves as a sentinel in the FFA chapter, has spent his time at home taking care of his horse and working on several of his older vehicles and getting them running. He has also had the time to repair a part of his tractor so he can use it to clean his horse's enclosure.
Sophomore Hannah DeVoe, who serves as FFA parliamentarian, has been spending her time working with her 10 horses, who she competes with in rodeo events, and raising toy Australian shepherds.
DeVoe said she has missed being around her friends and talking about FFA, as well as being able to work with the chickens and lizard at school. However, she doesn't usually have much time during the school year to spend with her animals at home, so it has been nice to have more time to work with her horses and get them ready for the rodeo season, she said.
Freshman MacKenzie Sontag is in her first year of FFA and has fallen in love with ag-related projects. At school she built a compost bin to recycle soil used in the greenhouse as well as vegetable scraps. She was planning to exhibit her bin in the ag science fair at the FFA state convention, which would have taken place earlier this month.
She's disappointed she didn't get to see the finished result of her compost bin because it takes about three months to create finished compost. However, she is still delivering scraps to Woodlee every couple weeks to keep the compost alive.
Since she has been stuck at home, Sontag's parents have bought her a small greenhouse so she can continue working with plants. She's growing tomato and strawberry plants, as well as indoor plants such as mother of thousands, kalanchoe and orchids.
Sontag has enjoyed watching the plants grow day-to-day instead of only seeing them a couple times a week in the school greenhouse. There is a lot of science that goes into growing plants and many factors that affect them, so Sontag has been experimenting to see how they are affected by different environments, she said.
In the future, Sontag hopes to use her greenhouse to grow and sell houseplants, she said.
Woodlee is encouraging and reminding students to keep track of the time they spend on their projects at home so they can use it to apply for awards and scholarships in the future. Practicing their record keeping skills is another bonus, she said.
"I love when kids just want to learn on their own and that's just a huge deal," she said. "Ag kids just want to constantly learn because when they are around stuff or animals or whatever it might be, they are curious and they want to know more about it."
NW News on 05/05/2020