February, 10, 2012. 6:24pm EST.
By Pornpat Pootinath and Jessica Schlundt
HARTFORD- Earlier this week, Governor Dannel P. Malloy announced his plans to increase support for public schools of choice in Connecticut. His proposal devotes $128 million to reform the state’s education system and to narrow the achievement gap. The plans seems to increase state funds to many public school options such as charters, magnets, CommPACT schools, but not agricultural science schools.
On Friday, February 10, 2012, the CT State Board of Education met to hear input from the community regarding the governer’s plan addressing funding for the state public schools.
Nonnewaug Makes a Plea
Members of the Nonnewaug High School appeared before the school board to request increased funding for its regional agricultural educational center. Nonnewaug High School is a regional public high school in Woodbury, which offers an Agriscience and Technology magnet program that serves many surrounding towns.
Each year approximately 180 students apply for only 90 spots. The school struggles to provide enough spots for the increasing number of applicants who apply. A senior high school student named Abigail Rey spoke, and wished more students could benefit from the program like herself. She said, “Unfortunately, 1,100 kids are going to be denied acceptance because there is not enough funding”. She spoke on the behalf of the students who could not attend due to lack of funding.
The staff of Nonnewaug High School also expressed the need for more students to participate in the nationally recognized program. As it is, the directors are left with no option but to deny students unless state funds are increased. They hope politicians will see the apparent need for increased funding.
As a result, this year 93 eighth-graders were rejected from the school, although many are well qualified. All the open choice schools have seen increases in funding with the exception of the agriscience program. Members of the Nonnewaug High School speak strongly on the success and need for the agriscience program.
The Agriscience and Technology program requires students to work or volunteer 200 hours per year at an agriculture-related or business program. Students in the program learn animal science, plant science, agricultural mechanics, and natural resources.
Support from the Community
Robert Peterson is a junior high school student enrolled in all Honors and AP (Advanced Placement) courses. His participation in the FFA (Future Farmers of America) program has benefited him greatly. The school offered him multiple opportunities inside and outside of the school. He hopes to attend Boston College to pursue political science and environmental law, and minor in environmental science. “If our agriculture program gets more funding, more students will have the opportunity to participate in CT agriculture programs”. Currently, the program enrolls 3,200 students, but has the potential to serve a thousand more students.
A female high school student commutes from Danbury to Woodbury to attend the school. Like many students, she believes that the agricultural education helps prepare for her career interest. She said, “The agriculture program helped my sister who currently is attending Cornell because the college recognized the outstanding record of the program at her high school through FFA, and the college noticed how much the program did for her.” “It has been a special role in my life to explore new careers and what I want to do. In order for students to be more a part of this amazing program, please help obtain the adequate funding to do so.”
William Davenport, director of The Ellis Clark Regional Agriscience and Technology Program at Nonnewaug High School is one of the many advisors for the Woodbury for the Future of Agriculture, as well as a member of the State Board of Education. Davenport notes that agriculture is the nation’s largest employer, with more than 23 million jobs, which is 17 percent of the civilian workforce. He emphasized the importance of providing agriculture education so that we can do less hiring from overseas and employ workers that are here and ready to learn and contribute. He believes that people get the wrong impression that agriculture is dying, but in fact the industry is growing and in need of productive workers. He also mentioned some of the skills that are taught, such as “creative problem solving, articulation of ideas, team involvement, record keeping, imagination, leadership, solid understanding of science and mathematics, and most importantly reliability – these are the life skills that make them not only solid students and employees, but all the skills that would enable them to succeed throughout their careers.”
Jennifer Ayers, a licensed veterinary technician at the Cat’s Corner Veterinary Hospital in Southbury for over 20 years and graduate of the program, is a parent of two 14-year olds who currently attend the school. She is in charge of hiring. Cat’s Corner is 15 minutes away from Nonnewaug High School. “We practice very high quality medicine and we hire the best and only the best people. 90% of our staff are graduates from Nonnewaug High School. From an employer’s perspective, the quality of applicants that come to us from the background of the FFA program surpass any other schools.” These resources are important for students going through the program.
Reported by Trinity College students: Pornpat Pootinath and Jessica Schlundt
Pornpat and Jessica reporting at the State Office Building
State Board of Education Meeting
Friday, Feb. 10th at 9:30 am