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Students grow their knowledge on school’s three-acre farm

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

IOWA FALLS – If you take a class from Kaitlyn Bartling, expect to get dirt on your hands, burrs on your pants and, if you’re not careful, a cow pie on your boot. Welcome to the three-acre mini-farm that is an integral part of the Agriculture Career and Technical Education program at Iowa Falls-Alden High School in central Iowa.

In addition to an acre-plus vegetable garden, the farm features a small barn that acts as shelter for the two calves and 16 broiler chickens the students are currently raising.

View additional images from Iowa Falls in our Flickr album.

And as in the real world, students learn that Mother Nature can work to foil them. For instance, the yield from the popcorn they were growing is abysmal, thanks to the unusually dry summer. And the peppers, though they thrived in the hot dry weather, were assaulted by a herd of persistent deer.

Kaitlyn Bartling

Kaitlyn Bartling

Bartling sees all of this as learning moments. Agriculture is, after all, in her blood. She grew up on a farm. She has two degrees in agriculture. She married a farmer and they are raising their family on a farm.

So instead of fixating on frustration, she challenges the students: How can we improve upon this next year? Answer: Fencing and marigolds will border the garden next year.

Bartling is in her third year of teaching at Iowa Falls-Alden, and this is the first harvest season since the district bought the property adjoining the school last fall. The high school’s agriculture program is small, but it branches out into many different disciplines.

“We focus on four areas in this program: animal science, ag mechanics (small engines, welding, hydraulics, home mechanics), and we dabble in ag business and plant science,” she said.

The program is aimed at high school students – grades nine through 12. Only about 30 percent of the students have agriculture backgrounds.

“The classes attract kids who are geared toward hands-on learners, kids who like a lot of different activities, kids who are not afraid to immerse themselves in the experience,” she said. “Some of these kids feel they aren’t really strong in classic academic principals, but they have no idea how smart they really are. They are able to apply the knowledge they gain and turn it into real situations.

“It is known as an experiential style of learning, taking factual knowledge and adding it to an experience which can then make it transformational.”

Students learn a whole array of things in applied sciences, such as calculating the proper feed ingredient proportions and weights for the calves, in which mathematics and science weigh heavily. But there are benefits beyond the standard education.

“There are social-emotional connections that happen at the farm,” she said. “I hadn’t expected it, but there has been incredible improvement in attitude among the students. They learn how to work with one another, how to work toward a common cause.”

When guests were visiting the farm recently, one student who is autistic and rarely speaks in class unless spoken to, came up to Bartling following the visit.

“He said, ‘Mrs. Bartling, this was a very good day and we need to do it again,’” she said. “I was so proud of him and all the students. It was a hot day, we were all sweaty, and yet they all felt a sense of accomplishment. For that one student to come up to me and freely express himself means the experience resonated deeply with him.”

Iowa Falls-Alden is one of 268 agriculture programs in Iowa’s schools; popularity in the agriculture programs is growing.

“We are seeing a rise over the last several years of new programs coming online,” said Matthew Eddy, a consultant at the Iowa Department of education. “Students are excited to apply their educational knowledge in an integrated contextual model that allows them to be creative and involved. In short – they get to learn by doing.

“When you add that agriculture is our state's lifeblood and is a new and interesting topic applying cutting edge technology and advancements – it is very easy to see that every student can find an area of interest within the coursework offered by local agriculture education programs.

“Agriculture education programs across the state offer course work, experimental work-based learning and leadership development – all which help develop a future ready workforce for Iowa.”

Bartling sees agriculture programs as a critical part of all students’ education.

“We get stuck with the idea that farming is all about tractors and livestock,” she said. “But it touches every aspect of our lives, from the clothes that we are wearing to the gas in our cars to the food on our tables to the livelihood of workers in our state.

“If we don’t understand the basic tenets of agriculture, we won’t be able to make educated decisions on its future.”

High School Senior Emma Bartling

High School Senior Emma Bartling

For students who fully take advantage of the classes offered in the animal science path, there is a concurrent enrollment class that incorporates all of the knowledge they have gleaned over the previous years and how food from animal sources reaches consumers.

For High School Senior Emma Bartling – yes, Teacher Bartling’s daughter – her capstone took on food safety in her final project. She developed a pork snack stick – think State Fair Food – by finding a recipe online and modifying it to make it even better.

“I added more onion, garlic, soy sauce, and let it marinate overnight,” she said. “The next day I put it in casings and then cooked it. They are sort of like a Slim Jim.”

Emma, who is applying to colleges with ag economics and ag business programs with the plan to eventually attend law school and focus on agricultural law, said she found the capstone rewarding.

“It turned out pretty good,” she said. “My dad liked it, anyway.”

But would she do it again?

“Only if I had access to a sausage stuffer.”

Fair enough.








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Printed from the Iowa Department of Education website on December 08, 2021 at 4:37pm.