Program shows students that agriculture is more than just dirt, farming

'Look for great things' from agribusiness program

Rutland Middle School started an agribusiness program this year. Students learn about animals, plants and plant-growing systems, and ag mechanics, which is building things out of wood and metal.
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Rutland Middle School started an agribusiness program this year. Students learn about animals, plants and plant-growing systems, and ag mechanics, which is building things out of wood and metal.

A new class at Rutland Middle School involves everything from goats and innovative plant-growing systems to drones and wood projects. The Macon school started its agribusiness program this year, and around 275 students are already involved.

It’s a connections class that students in grades six, seven or eight can take. Andrew Reeves and Robbie Bartlett came from Houston County schools to become the agribusiness teaching team this year. Rutland Middle is one of the only middle schools in the state to have two agribusiness teachers, Principal Richard Key said.

Key tries to bring something new to his school every year, and the Junior Leadership Corps was added last year, he said. With a lot of farming in the area, agribusiness was a natural step for the school this year.

The program focuses on animals; agriculture mechanics, which is building things out of metal and wood; and agriculture sciences, which involves plants and growing systems, Reeves said.

“None of these kids have had the experiences in ag, so we’re kind of giving each class a broad overview of all the standards and really what ag is,” Bartlett said. “They get to see how many jobs are actually available in the ag world. It just opens up their eyes to see that ag is so much more than just dirt.”

The school keeps two Nigerian dwarf goats in a fenced-in area out back and has two coops that will later house fowl, Key said. Five turkey eggs are about to hatch and more eggs are coming, and local dairy farmer Benjamin Newberry is donating 12 dairy cows, Reeves said. Students develop a love and respect for animals and learn how to care for them.

They also get experience with plants through growing systems set up in the classrooms and a greenhouse outside that they share with Rutland High School. A hydroponic plant-growing system called Under Current is being assembled in Reeves’ room right now, Reeves said. All students have classroom jobs, such as watering the plants, and they get excited to see progress, Bartlett said.

Construction of an ag mechanics building is expected to start in January, and a barn and pasture will be built this summer, Reeves. The program will get two drones soon. In addition, the middle school students will help Rutland High school students rebuild two tractors.

“Bibb County has stepped so far out on the limb to invest into the child,” Reeves said. “It’s not about the protocol, it’s not about the rules, it’s not about the regulations. It’s about what’s best for educating our children and giving them these hands-on skills and letting them love learning.”

Students who take the ag class are required to complete one supervised agriculture project, but some are starting on a second. For instance, sixth-graders Mallory Smith, Hannah Smith and Savannah Melendez are building a playground for the goats.

Membership in the school’s Future Farmers of America chapter is optional, but almost 200 students are involved. Members will have competed in about 15 FFA competitions by the end of the school year. They have time to practice for them on smart boards during agribusiness class.

Rutland Middle FFA members took home more than 60 ribbons at the Georgia National Fair and will receive $600 as the Superior Ag Mechanics Chapter, Reeves said. They researched their projects and designed the plans during class, received materials from the school, and then worked on them at school or home, Bartlett said.

The school will use the agribusiness program and other connections classes to seek STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) certification, Key said.

“Under Mr. Key’s leadership, we plan on using ag as the vehicle for STEM, because STEM is bringing all your academics (together), breaking the walls,” Reeves said. “Every academic is in this classroom. This is the portal for STEM.”

Students are able to put STEM concepts they learn into action and see how they apply to the real world. For example, they use the Pythagorean theorem for landscaping and ratios when mixing goat food and fertilizer.

“We have kids who are beating the doors down to get in (to the class). They love it,” Bartlett said.

Andrea Honaker: 478-744-4382, @TelegraphAndrea