Education

Prairie High launches agriculture program, FFA chapter

Olivia Zubrod (left) stands up Wednesday before Laney Klees (right) to answer a question as students play Trashketball w
Olivia Zubrod (left) stands up Wednesday before Laney Klees (right) to answer a question as students play Trashketball while reviewing for a quiz in Prairie High School’s new Introduction to Agriculture class. Also pictured are Will Vlasek (second from left) and Tate Joens. This is the first year the College Community School District has offered a program in agriculture. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Growing crops, raising livestock and learning about where food comes from are now a part of the curriculum at Prairie High School, which launched its first agriculture program and National FFA Organization chapter this year.

Sophomore William Vlasek, 15, enrolled in the Introduction to Agriculture class because he has a dream of being an agricultural engineer and owning his own farm someday.

“For being a school like Prairie that’s surrounded by agriculture, it’s long overdue to have an ag program,” said Vlasek, who helps on his grandfather’s farm.

Coilee Hynek, 15, also a sophomore, said she wasn’t sure she wanted to sign up for the class. But when she learned her aunt was the first president of her FFA chapter, she felt like agriculture was in her blood.

“I still don’t know what I want to do with my life, so I like to explore new passions,” Hynek said. “It’s really cool because we’re sort of the founders, and it’s cool we were chosen to do that.”

When Superintendent Doug Wheeler joined the College Community School District a few years ago, he said he began talking with staff, parents and community members about creating an agriculture program.

As the school grows, Wheeler said, it’s important to add programs and give students the chance to leave high school with an idea of what they want to do as a career.

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A survey of parents showed interest in an ag program, Wheeler said, and the school board approved the addition last year.

The school is seeing more interest than anticipated, with more than 100 students already enrolled, Wheeler said.

The district plans to eventually build a classroom and greenhouse on land owned across the street from the school, a project that will cost an estimated $1.3 million. There is no timeline for that project, but the district is working with OPN Architects on blueprints.

Erica Baier, a first-year teacher and former national FFA officer, was hired as the agriculture teacher this year.

In her classroom, students will eventually work with livestock and crops, explore careers in agriculture, learn about food and natural resource systems and learn to problem-solve, she said.

Baier is teaching only Introduction to Agriculture this year, with plans to add Plant and Animal Science next year.

To be a part of Cedar Rapids Prairie’s FFA chapter, students have to take one agriculture class each semester.

In FFA, students learn about agriculture and develop leadership and public speaking skills, Baier said.

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Baier said she is focusing first on teaching students how to be good citizens. But it would be “awesome if every student walked out of my classroom pursuing a career in agriculture,” she said.

Steve Bohr, a parent to two Prairie High School students and owner of several ag businesses, is overjoyed the school is investing in an agriculture program.

His daughter, Ayva Bohr, 17, was named the FFA chapter president earlier this semester.

Bohr, owner of Farm Financial Strategies, Next Gen Ag Advocates and a family farm in Wellman, is looking forward to working with Prairie FFA students, offering job shadowing opportunities, internships or potentially hiring them as employees some day.

The opportunities in agriculture are immense, Bohr said, whether it’s operating a small organic farm or being the engineer behind robots that milk cows.

“I do believe there is going to be significant opportunity, I just don’t know what it’s going to look like,” Bohr said. “Our communities are founded on agriculture. If I’m a young person, I want to be involved, I want to be in the middle of it.”

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

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