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Proposed STEM school would focus on agriculture
Matching up elementary and high school students with Ohio’s largest industry is the goal of a proposed regional STEM school that would focus on agriculture in urban areas.
Sen. Chris Widener would like to see the Global Impact STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Academy create an educated work force for businesses that work in the food, fuel and fiber industries. Widener hopes to have the project begin in a couple of years in Springfield where the school district has agreed to donate a vacant building. The school would serve students in grades six to 12 from 51 school districts and be modeled after other STEM schools in Ohio with an emphasis on agriculture.
“No state takes a comprehensive approach for K-12 that prepares and introduces kids to food, fuel and fiber,” Widener said on a recent edition of Ohio Farm Bureau's Town Hall Ohio radio show. Listen to the show.
The school’s name deliberately leaves out the word “agriculture” because many people who are not familiar with the many facets of the industry believe it doesn’t offer much of a career for students, he said.
“Kids and parents struggle with agriculture as a term, and if they are not familiar with it they believe it’s a dead end to a job,” Widener said.
The reality is that one in seven Ohio jobs is in the agbioresource industry, making it the state’s largest industry. Only 10 percent of those jobs are on farms, Widener said. Many of the jobs are in high-tech areas that rely on science, math and technology. Demand for agriculture-related positions is expected to grow with the world population projected to increase from 7 billion to 9 billion in 2050.
The Global Impact STEM Academy would be structured after the Dayton regional STEM school, which is partnered with Wright State University. The goal is to have industry partners give students real-world experience and college credit and in return they would get students who are more prepared for the workplace.
Widener said the agriculture-specific STEM schools need to be located in urban or other areas that have not had a lot of exposure to agriculture. Doing so would expose more students and families to the industry and not take away from traditional agriculture experiences such as FFA or 4-H, he said. The senator said the number of students and teachers in traditional vocational agriculture programs has been decreasing by 5 percent about every five years. The Global Impact Stem Academy will “throw a lifeline to traditional vo-ag,” he said.
The school would reach out to students starting in sixth grade because research shows that’s when students start showing a real interest in school subjects, Widener said.
“The concept is to go into urban environments and begin to study energy, environment, bioscience and food science,” he said. “It would be project based learning that the industry is working on like how do you get that fifth bean to grow in that soybean pod?”
Widener said he looked to Ohio Farm Bureau for help on his proposal.
Farm Bureau’s state board is in the process of shaping its opinion on the concept. They’re listening to Sen. Widener but also to other stakeholders including agricultural educators and county Farm Bureaus. Questions include the long-term funding issues and potential impacts on FFA programs.
Photo by Seth Teter