Your farm as a classroom

CEW-MR-1-John Bowne794by Steven E Smith

“I love it out here. It is just perfect to me,” stated Gieselle as she was reflecting on the fullness of her summer experiences at Dreamroad dairy farm in Johnstown, NY. Giselle’s excitement for farm chores was not because she is a member of the Ferry family farm, she was a summer work-study student from John Bowne High School in New York City. After finishing her junior year of school, Gisselle had reached the placement phase and working at a dairy farm was her goal. After years of commitment and demonstrated proficiency in her school’s Ag program experience, Gieselle had the privilege of working closely with animals in preparation to study animal science when she goes to college.

“We send students to the farm setting each summer after they have completed our on-campus program and demonstrated a strong commitment to their field of study in agriculture,” explained teacher and assistant principal Steve Perry at John Bowne High School. “The summer placement program is the longest running summer program at the school and offers the city students amazing experiential training in the most hands-on of ways. It is a big personal commitment for the student to leave their family and homes and go to work for the summer on dairy, horse, goat, and vegetable operations.”

While talking with Gieselle during her summer work experience, she said she had developed a great appreciation for dairy farming. “There is always something to do but that is good,” because Gieselle had learned that “the amount you put in, is what you get out. I have driven a tractor, milked cows and even delivered a calf. That was gross at first but the calf was so adorable. I got to be a part of new life beginning and also experienced death as only a farm can teach you. This experience has confirmed my desire to work in animal science.”

According to Sandy Ferry, “We were encouraged that Gieselle be treated as part of our family. She was to share meals with the household as well as go to bed and get up with the farm crew. And if something happened like a cow got loose in the night, she was expected to help out with that too. Gieselle found showing cattle to be very interesting noting the intrigue of wearing whites in the show ring. Her first exposure to showing with the farm came at the Saratoga County Fair near the beginning of her stay and later at the Dutchess County Fair, Gieselle did well in showmanship placing near the middle of the class.”

“To maximize the internship experience, students are to keep a diary recording their experiences and observations,” explained Perry. A mid-season visit by an instructor from the high school is part of the program to learn about the experience as well as provide some challenging questions to the student to spur on further investigation before the internship is complete.

Long before a student earns a placement away from home at a summer internship, each logs hours of work experience and demonstrates commitment during prior summers at the school’s four-acre land lab. The John Bowne two-month long summer session requires students to take half as classroom study and the other half on the land lab caring for animals and working with plants. There each student is responsible for their own 15 X 15 plot of crop.

The John Bowne Ag department includes a poultry house, animal barn, exotic animal laboratory, greenhouse and orchard in addition to field crops to offer students a diverse cross section of agricultural opportunities. Freshman and sophomore students take classes in both the Plant and Animal Sciences, allowing them to make an educated decision at the conclusion of their sophomore year as to whether they want to major in Plant Science or Animal Science for their junior and senior years.

“John Bowne High School is simply a special place,” stated Perry who is one of a number of teachers on staff at the high school that is also an alum of the program. The agriculture program at John Bowne is an educational option program for any kid from any of the five boroughs. The John Bowne Ag program includes the largest FFA chapter in New York State and its’ members use their required involvement at the school’s land laboratory as the basis of their supervised work experience program. After cultivating their crops, members are able to sell the harvest to the school store or by way of a road side stand.

“When you walk the halls here, you can tell an Aggie from a non-Aggie,” Perry said. “They’re goal-oriented.” For those students who pursue an honors tract, instructors assist these exceptional students develop research projects based on their agricultural interest. John Bowne’s ag program helps to inspire these students on to further education with over 80 percent of their students going on to college and most of them into agricultural studies. Bowne grads go on to agricultural colleges such as UConn, Cornell, SUNY Cobleskill, Del Val, U RI, Penn State, Cal Poly and more.

In addition to training students at the School’s on-campus summer programs and the rural placement program, John Bowne students have an option to complete an urban internship. These students work at veterinary clinics, florist businesses, nurseries, garden centers, pet shops, zoos and aquariums. The students also document their experiences in diaries like the rural placement students. These students are visited each month by one of the program’s instructors to see what they are learning. Despite the urban setting, there are many jobs within the agricultural sector within New York City.

At Dreamroad Farm, Sandy Ferry said they are looking to hosting another student to be part of their crew this summer. “We look forward to teach them all that we can.” There are countless opportunities to host a student throughout the rural northeast. When one considers that a student first has worked a 15 by 15 plot of land during their training, there is therefore a great deal of potential in our rural communities. Through prior dedication and commitment, these students who Perry deems “goal setters who strive to achieve” have the sort of enthusiasm and commitment that will be essential for the next generation of agriculturalists to prosper. Could your farm be a place for a young person like that to gain their next most powerful experience?

If you are in interested in learning more about the summer work study program for students from John Bowne please contact Steve Perry, Assistant Principal, at 718-263-5555.

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