Waimea Canyon Middle School students are really growing.
The school’s agriculture program for grades six through eight is helping students gain an understanding of agriculture, learn about career opportunities, participate in project-based experiences and expand leadership skills.
“It is a very good balance of indoor classes where you can learn and go on the computer, but at the same time you get the challenge of outdoor activities to have a nice breath of air,” said seventh- grader Makala Elsaieh-Rowe. “I’ve learned how to farm, how to weed, how to mix up compost, how to make compost, how to grow plants, how to germinate seeds, and why agriculture is so important.”
Agricultural topics covered during the year-long elective course include leadership and agriculture careers, agriculture record-keeping, agriculture and environment, scientific method, plant and animal cell structure, plant science, animal science, technology and agriculture in Hawaii.
Sixth-grader Richard Palacio enjoys collecting data weekly for his class journal.
“We put on the height of the plant, and then we put on leaves and how many flowers,” he said. “We write an observation of what we see on the plant, like if we see bugs and how to fix it, usually with spray from the neem tree.”
Several raised garden beds with added organic soil make it possible for students to grow vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots on the one-acre school farm.
“There’s this chemical inside the dirt that they’ve been trying to take out with sunflowers, called DDT,” Palacio said. “The sunflowers are one of the top 10 plants to take out the chemicals, so we can grow vegetables.”
“When we did the soil testing out here we found DDT, legacy pesticide,” said Waimea Canyon Middle School teacher Howard Hurst. “We found that sunflowers actually phytoremediate.”
This academic course is based upon the National FFA Organization’s Middle School Food and Agricultural Literacy Curriculum with a focus on organic farming practices and environmental stewardship. The skills-based curriculum serves as an introduction to agriculture and a feeder program for Waimea High School’s agriculture class.
“This activity helps them throughout the day, not only academically, but also gives them a mental outlet, a little break from monotony of classroom assignments,” said one of the school’s counselors, Malieek Cox. “They’re having fun but also learning teamwork and releasing any kind of stress in a productive way.”
“They’re working with each other, sharing and communicating,” he added.
This is the first year of the program after the school received a $10,000 grant from Ceres Trust as “seed” money to help it grow. Guest presenters have shared their manao on topics including recycling and composting, cattle ranching with Billy DeCosta, commercial farming with GoFarm Hawaii and horse care by alumnus Levi Maeda.
“There’s so much career opportunities in agriculture for children here on Kauai,” Hurst said. “They use skills of observation, data collection, monitoring weather and doing graphs and using software programs.”
“We’ve done project- based learning, we’ve done animal husbandry where students created their own business … looking at agriculture as the future,” Hurst said. “Our underlying theme is environmental stewardship and trying to get in those Hawaiiana values as well.”
Students took a field trip to see the Waimea High School Farm Program with students acting as tour guides thanks to agriculture teacher Greg Harding, Clint Snyder, Megan Pittsley-Fox of Malama Kauai, retired teacher Elaine Otoman and other volunteer presenters.
“You can get better jobs being outside and getting paid just to plant and grow crops,” said seventh-grader Benjamin Sarocan-Lopes. “We have aquaculture and use the water to naturally fertilize these plants.”
“We also have a community garden where people plant taro and stuff,” he added. “It tastes way better when you grow it yourself.”