High School Brings the Farm to the City
LUKE BURBANK, host:
From NPR News, it's DAY TO DAY.
With farm populations plummeting, a Chicago high school is training inter-city kids how to rollup the flannel sleeves and work the farm.
NPR Sandy Hausman goes into the barnyard.
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SANDY HAUSMAN: The hallways of this high school look like many others. So do its 600 students. But some of the classrooms and educational activities are different.
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Sixteen-year-old Mick Ross(ph) is chasing down chickens.
Mr. MICK ROSS (Student): If you hold down their wings, they don't (unintelligible) anymore. The only thing you have to worry about are the roosters. Very, very dominant so they like to attack.
HAUSMAN: Have you been attacked?
Mr. ROSS: Only when they're cornered.
HAUSMAN: And what was that like?
Mr. ROSS: I ran.
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HAUSMAN: Ross has always liked animals, but the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, or CHiSAS, is giving him a chance to get closer than he ever dreamed. In addition to taking the usual academic courses, he's had hands on experience artificially inseminating cows. And one Sunday while doing extracurricular chores, he discovered a pregnant goat was about to give birth to twins. Animal science instructor and school veterinarian, Dr. Joan White, was standing by.
Dr. JOAN WHITE (School Veterinarian, Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences): I talked him through it over a cell phone.
HAUSMAN: White and her fellow faculty members oversee 70 acres of fields and buildings, property once used by the last farmers in Chicago. Now, students help care for a flock of chickens, a horse, five cows, four sheep, two goats, a potbellied pig, a prairie dog, and a snake. White believes there is no better way for kids to learn biology.
Dr. WHITE: What they enjoy the most, believe it or not, is when something dies and we dissect it.
HAUSMAN: The student also studies horticulture. With cities across America going green - building more parks, promoting locally grown produce, and tending thousands of golf courses - academics in the nation's AG schools say demand for workers with horticulture training is huge.
Students take classes in mechanics and technology, agriculture finance, and food science. But first, they need to learn the basics. Jamaal Jackson(ph), now a freshman in college, still recalls his first encounter with farm animals.
Mr. JAMAAL JACKSON (College Freshman): I didn't know about all of the hard work it takes taking care of the animals, like different medical things that animals have to do and everything. So when I first get here, oh, my God, it's cows, chickens, and all kind of animals here in the middle of the city, you know -wow.
HAUSMAN: When they graduate, students plan to pursue agriculture-related jobs and marketing and medicine, law and government, education and industry. Kristine De Kudrow(ph) has already turned her food science training into a thriving business, baking treats for students and staff.
Ms. KRISTINE DE KUDROW (Student): I want to own my own bakery someday, where I make my own cakes.
HAUSMAN: So you don't see as still working on a farm, necessarily?
Ms. DE KUDROW: No, definitely not.
HAUSMAN: The school figures there are at least 200 careers in agriculture that do not involve farming. Principal David Gilligan says many colleges recruit heavily from CHiSAS, where 61 percent of the students are African-American and 12 percent are Hispanic.
Mr. DAVID GILLIGAN (Principal, Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences): There's not a lot of diversity in that industry, and as a matter of fact, that's why there's a lot of opportunity for our students for a scholarship.
HAUSMAN: Forty percent of students here come from low-income families. So statistically they are at higher risk for dropping out. But 85 percent of all kids at CHiSAS graduate, and 78 percent will complete at least one year of college. One other indication of how successful the school has been, the Chicago Board of Education hopes to open two more agricultural high schools.
For NPR News, I'm Sandy Hausman.
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BURBANK: DAY TO DAY returns in a moment.