High school football season is just getting under way, but out beyond North Surry’s stadium a new addition to the campus is about to begin construction.
The agriculture department will soon have a metal building erected to serve as a barn for the raising and caring for live animals.
From the football field, looking beyond the end zone and scoreboard, there is a soccer practice field where emergency vehicles will park in case of injuries during Friday night games. Just beyond that is a large area that has always been off-limits for use.
That is because when the high school was constructed six decades ago, there was no sewage service anywhere near Toast, so the campus needed its own large septic system. Nothing could be built in the area because it might have damaged the filter system, said Dr. Travis Reeves, school superintendent.
In recent years, Mount Airy and Surry County officials teamed up on the interstate water-sewer project to run city lines out to the intersection of N.C. 89 and I-77. The sewer line ran right past North Surry and Gentry Middle School so both campuses hooked on to the service.
That freed up space on “the back 40,” Reeves said. Surry Central and East Surry are pretty land-locked, and even if there were more space there would be greater needs for things such as parking and bathrooms, but North Surry had this room to expand.
The school has already cleared off a pad on which it will place the barn, standing about 50 feet wide and 30 feet deep, for the animal science program.
Reeves said the district has three dedicated 12-month agriculture teachers in Matt Love, East Surry (the veteran with 14 years of experience), Michael Culler at North Surry, and newcomer April Parker at Surry Central. The school system wants to optimize its resources to open up opportunities for kids.
Animal science is already a part of the class curriculum, noted Dr. Jill Reinhardt, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. But it is reading about the subject from a book and taking tests, whereas the schools have had greenhouses for years to see horticulture up close.
“A hands-on approach is practical,” agreed North Surry’s Culler. “You can’t learn beef cattle or livestock unless you go out and actually work with them. You can’t get the same experience out of a book as you can in a hands-on laboratory.”
And, he added, since animal science has already been part of the program, it won’t interfere with covering the rest of the curriculum.
Wayne Farms, one of the largest employers in the county, has offered its support.
Wayne Farms is a big outfit and doesn’t need to bother with this, but it is willing to take on a senior as an intern this fall as well as sponsor a poultry section of the livestock, said Reeves.
The business will provide some baby chicks that the students will have to raise, feed and vaccinate. As the program develops, the company could provide some laying hens for the spring semester so that students get to experience hens setting nests, laying eggs and sitting on them.
In order for East and Central to take part in this, Reeves said some existing greenhouse space is being converted into chicken houses.
Sometime in the spring when the weather warms up, like April, Reeves said the district plans to have an agriculture day where second-graders travel to their respective high schools and learn about the ag program.
Over the summer break, the school system held a week-long agriculture camp.
In this county, agriculture is still the largest industry, noted Reeves.
At a county commissioners meeting on Monday, the figure of $301 million dollars was given for the local impact of the industry.
It isn’t just the chicken farmers or crop farmers; there are many jobs tied to agriculture, said Reeves. This covers the Wayne Farms plant in Dobson, the people who sell feed, fertilizer and farm equipment, and the truck drivers hauling goods and supplies back and forth.
Yes, Surry County Schools pushes a college-going culture and emphasizes earning college credits in high school, said the superintendent. However, there is also a growing movement toward re-emphasizing career and technical education.
There is a skills gap between job opportunities and what high school graduates know in the agriculture industry, so educators have a responsibility to fill that gap, he believes.
Having livestock on campus can be the kind of hook that gets kids interested in a field where they could one day prosper.
Reinhardt said the district is working to develop pathways that can lead to either post-high school certifications or two- and four-year programs at a university so that teens have some direction and guidance. She and others in the central office are looking to partner with others to determine what shape those pathways will take.
Reinhardt said some other counties are already trying this approach, and it is working there. She traveled to Randolph, Iredell and Catawba counties to see it first-hand. She said the teachers were excited to talk about having live animals on the campus. The same can happen here.
The first step is getting the new barn erected.
Reach Jeff at 415-4692.