The average American farmer or rancher is in his mid-60s and gets older every year. In part this is because ag kids find jobs in town and don’t return to the ranch. One innovative school in Indiana is trying a new approach to changing that.

“If you want to sustain that industry, then we feel like you have to start introducing it at an early age,” said Keith Marsh, chief academic officer of the Indiana Agriculture and Technology School.

The school is a hybrid online school with a 600-acre farm serving as a campus for hands-on learning. This Indiana public charter school accepts students from seventh-12th grade. It will start classes beginning July 30 and will focus on agriculture, technology, and career-pathway training.

Core curriculum is administered by Edgenuity, an Arizona-based company that provides online educational programs to school districts around the country. Students at the Indiana Agriculture and Technology School can pursue one of three different Indiana high school diplomas through the school, but there is one catch: All students must take at least one ag course.

“They may not be interested in an ag career, but that’s part of getting them introduced,” Marsh told WLJ.

“I think, some kids who have never seen it or experience what it’s about, once they see it, might start to look at it as a possible career.”

Most of the students’ coursework would be completed at home, online with the help of remote counselors and teachers. At least once a month during the school year, students would attend hands-on learning events at the farm or at other regional farm campuses throughout the state.

According to the school’s website, the high school agricultural programs are based on CASE; Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education. The class course for the high school animal agriculture program through the Indiana Agriculture and Technology School is listed as: Introduction to Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources; Principles of Agricultural Science; Animal and Plant Biotechnology or Food Science and Safety; and Agricultural Research and Development.

Marsh pointed out that the school is also offering a drone program for juniors.

“It’s open to any student who wants to take it,” Marsh explained, saying the two-year program involves getting the Federal Aviation Administration-certified commercial drone license.

"Then their senior year, they can take visual stick learning, so they’re actually flying different sizes of drones and become proficient. You can pretty much put that in your back pocket and take it anywhere you want to take it to get a job.”

Marsh told WLJ that the school aims for at least 200 students in the first year, but doesn’t want to get too big. The school’s plan at the moment involves a 4-to-1 staff-to-student ratio.

“Five-hundred and fifty is the total we’re looking at,” he said. “If you're going to be impactful and engaging with the kids, you have to manage your numbers.”

More information can be found online at the school’s website at www.indiana.agKerry Halladay, WLJ editor

WLJ Managing Editor

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