After several years of having a successful agricultural program at Midway Middle School, the school’s officials are looking forward to providing more opportunities for students.
Educator Leasa Hodges made a presentation about the school’s agriculture program to the Sampson County Schools Board of Education during a Tuesday work session.
After earning several degrees and certifications, she made her way to Midway Middle and taught science and business related classes. In 2014, Hodges made a suggestion to begin an agriculture program as a exploratory option. It officially started in the fall of 2015.
“Overall, I’m very excited that we have the agricultural curriculum in our middle school,” Hodges said. “I would love to see it throughout our county.”
Currently, there’s two agriculture classes at the middle school level offered through North Carolina Future Farmers of America (FFA). “Exploring Agricultural Science” is taught at the seventh-grade level and a biotechnology course is available for eighth-graders.
In the agricultural science class, the majority of the focus is placed on understanding the basics of the animal science industry. Seventh graders learn by incubating eggs and study different variables that goes into hatching eggs. After the chicks were born, they examine the growth rate and place them under different lights to see which had the most efficient gain. Red was was the most effective.
“They love the red lights and they grow faster with the red lights, Hodges said.
Another goal is to teach students about the plant science industry. One lesson includes hydroponics, a method of growing plants in water without soil. Through the aquaponics system, fish are involved in the growth process since their waste serves as the fertilizer.
For eighth-grade biotechnology, students have the opportunity to analyze the science behind plants, food, animals, and practices in the industry and environment. The class also prepares students for final state exams in science.
“The students who are in biotechnology score better on this exam,” she said.
In December, Hodges and the students will receive a visit from the Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center of North Carolina State University. The organization will work with students on determining if products are genetically modified organisms (GMO) or not.
In the future, the school would like to expand by adding beekeeping.
“I started beekeeping a couple of years ago and I wanted to bring it to Midway Middle School,” she said. “There’s a lot of groundwork that needs to be lay down so we can find a safe place to put the bees.”
Hodges discussed how FFA plays a major role in agricultural opportunities at Midway Middle. There’s 60 members at the school, which is the most Hodges worked with. Seventh and Eighth grade students participate in a variety of competitions and field trips. In 2016, they placed first in the southeast region for exploring biotechnology. During a 2017 competition, students placed third in several categories. Some of them included farm business management, exploring biotechnology and the quiz bowl.
Some of the FFA community projects includes a barn quilt funded through agricultural donations and an outside garden, which also serves as an outdoor classroom. The project was funded through Simple Gifts ,which provides unique opportunities for teachers and students.
Although the school is seeing success with the agricultural program, Hodges said there’s some concerns as well.
“The curriculum needs a lot of work,” she said. “It’s outdated. In order to bring my students the latest information, I’m doing a lot of work on my own to bring this to them.”
Midway Middle would also like to have an agriculture class for the sixth graders. Hodges teaches business, marketing and entrepreneurship at this grade level. Her students are gaining real world experience through a soap making project. Items will be sold to the public during the holiday season.
“As much as I enjoy the business class, they really want to be a part of FFA,” she said.
Hodges stressed that other nearby counties, such as Johnston, have used curriculum for the upper levels, to form a class for sixth graders. Since there’s not a lot of middle schools without an FFA, it limits local opportunities for competitions.
“When we compete, we’re going to regional or state,” she said. “There’s no local competitions. That’s something I need to work on — collaborating with other teachers to see if we can put together some more local opportunities.”
Board members commended the program and its benefits for students, especially with farming having a large impact on the local economy.
“I agree that it’s something that we should have throughout our middle schools in Sampson County,” said Vice Chair Kim Schmidlin.
“People are surprised that Sampson County doesn’t have more of this middle schools,” Hodges said. “Agricultural is one of our leading commodities.”
Board ,ember Dewain Sinclair agreed.
“Industries change each year, but agriculture is still our backbone,” Sinclair said.
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.