Principal Terry Gardiner, of Seaway District High School, has a lot to smile about these days: the school’s solid performance in the recent rankings, an intermediate science team heading for the Ontario Science Fair Finals in Charlottetown, and the very successful addition of agriculture as a specialist high skills major at Seaway.
“Our first group of students will graduate this fall with the specialist high skills major in agriculture on their diplomas. This has proved a very valuable program at Seaway, although it has only been in place for a short time. I would call it a perfect example of the way the education system is partnering with the economic sectors and moving with the times,” principal Gardiner said, during a recent interview.
The Ministry of Education has established specialized programs in the province which now allow students to focus their knowledge and skills towards a specific economic sector. In June, 2010, Seaway District High School was approved by the Ministry to offer students a diploma in agriculture.
“When we made the decision at Seaway to go after a high skills program, we took a long look at our community partners, and we realized that in this area there is a lot of opportunity in agriculture. The program seemed a really good fit for South Dundas,” Gardiner explained.
When Seaway was given the go ahead to set up the program, the school also received a $20,000 grant to establish it.
“We used the funds to purchase welding equipment, a smart board, and computer technology. During this month of April, we are constructing a green house at the southwest corner of the school.”
The program does not rely on an “agriculture” teacher. Instead agricultural components are built into units of study within a student’s prescribed classes at Seaway, under CLA, or Contextual Learning Activities.
For example, a math class unit could focus on farm budgeting, seeding and equipment costs. An environmental studies unit might look into soil studies and soil nutrients.
In biology, students might examine animal structure or study the relationship between genetics and crop science to improve yields.
Seaway Co-op teachers Robert Knapp and Tanya Crosbie co-ordinate the specialist program.
There are specific skills within the program that require specialized instructors.
Instruction in such things as handling chain saws, pesticide use, chemical safety, equipment maintenance and WHMS regulations, are taught by certified instructors brought to the school.
“There are several parts to the program,” Gardiner explained. “Students earn six industry recognized certificates, two experiential learning activities (attending plowing matches, agriculture museums, farm tours) and two co-op placements in related fields.”
Students enter the specialized skills program in grade 11. Seaway will see its first six students graduate in October with the “red seal” on their certificates. Some colleges and universities give special consideration to students with these qualifications. Kemptville College in particular is involved in a dual credit arrangement with Seaway.
“This specialist high skills program in agriculture is another way Seaway is able to offer a wider choice of pathways to students into different fields of work,” Gardiner said. “Our object is to make this a real and relevant experience. The more students we engage and interest, the more we hope to see graduate.”