by Elizabeth A. Tomlin
A small rural school is making itself a big name by leading the way in re-establishing agriculture education in the classroom.
Mount Markham CSD, located in the southern-most edge of Herkimer County in the small village of West Winfield, ­­lost their ag education program nearly 30 years ago.
“Mount Markham lost its original ag education program in the early ‘90s as a result of budget cuts,” confirms Dr. Paul Berry, Superintendent of Schools at Mount Markham CSD. “Prior to that time, Ag Ed and FFA were a mainstay in the school district since at least the 1930s.”
Berry said the first “seeds meant to revive the program were planted” in 2013 at the annual CNY Farm Show.
It was another two years before the idea became fully developed, when students and community members expressed their desire to see ag education return to the school district.
“During the 2016-2017 school year, a diverse group of community members, students, teachers and school administrators embarked upon a program study to determine whether or not agriculture education was a viable program to offer our students content and skill development.”
The group formed focused on investigating whether or not the program was a feasible possibility in a multi-year study.
“We would travel to other schools, local colleges, farms and agribusinesses to look and listen,” explained Berry. “After a field trip, we would return and update the board of education regarding our findings and we held two community forums. From the beginning, our study was collaborative. We engaged experts from Cornell, the Farm Bureau, New York State, and the region to offer us the most up-to-date information about the viability of an Ag Ed program; importantly, the board of education was also in the process of planning a school budget for the 2017-2018 school year. We knew that to revive the program was going to take a significant financial investment. Therefore, our program study had to prove that our students would benefit from Ag Ed, site-based learning experiences and FFA; in addition, we had to show that the district could afford the program and could sustain the program.”
Berry said one thing the group learned was how important it was to obtain the best Ag educators they could find, who would lead the program.
“Eric Bugbee and Katie Lindsey are the ‘who’ teachers that have made the reintroduction of Ag Ed to Mount Markham so successful,” he affirms. “Eric and Katie both have agriculture and the region in their blood. Their knowledge and enthusiasm combined with the strength of our region and the contacts that have been made make us confident that our Ag Ed program can be sustained indefinitely.”
Keith Schiebel, regarded as one of the top ag educators in New York, is a Mount Markham graduate.
Schiebel says he doesn’t teach agriculture; he teaches students.
Berry said Schiebel’s statement highlights a key belief of Mount Marham’s Ag Ed program.
“We are not focused upon training future farmers, we are focused on preparing students for success beyond Mount Markham. We believe that the content, skills and leadership development opportunities that are part of Ag Ed and FFA are game changers for our students.”
Eric Bugbee, high school agriculture teacher and FFA advisor, assists students in completing Supervised Agricultural Experiences.
Bugbee was proud to announce the Mount Marham’s FFA chapter was represented at the 93rd Annual NYS FFA Convention, with students participating in workshops, business sessions and competing in career development events.
“The re-installment of the program started with student input,” said Bugbee. “Kellyanne Allen, Mount Markham’s class of 2018 valedictorian had been participating in the Sharon Spring FFA chapter, as her mom, Mrs. Anne Allen has been the agricultural educator at Sharon Springs for nearly 30 years.
Kelly’s vision was to re-charter a MM FFA chapter by the time she graduated, needless to say, this became a reality in the fall of her senior year.”
Bugee reports that in competition Kellyanne Allen placed 1st in the “Teach Ag” prepared public speaking event, while the Quiz bowl team of McCaylia Plungis, Abbie Ainslie, Joshua Douglas, Jack Bowman and Kellyanne Allen placed 3rd out of a field of 31.
Abbie Ainslie, only a Jr. FFA member, qualified to compete with the Senior Quiz Bowl team after many hours of practice and succeeded in the Prepared Speaking competition as well.
“I did the Junior Prepared Speaking at District and I got first place,” remarked Ainslie. “Then I moved into Sub-state and I got second place, so I moved into State and got 5th!”
These competitions in Career and Leadership Development Events are intense and Ainslie admits she was a bit nervous.
“This was my first year ever with FFA and it was a cool experience to make it this far in my first year.”
Ainslie’s prepared speech was about the origin of the Holstein breed. “I had to do a lot of research.”
She says she hopes to do as well next year.
“I hope to be number one next year, I’ll try to make it if I can. But, to be part of this organization and be part of the activities is still a really great experience.”
Katie Lindsey, a former Saratoga County Dairy Princess who grew up on a dairy farm and is still currently involved in the dairy industry with her husband, leads Agriculture Education Introduction in Mount Markham Middle School. Lindsey is the Junior FFA Advisor and says Ainslie worked diligently throughout the winter on her winning speech.
Lindsey reports that Mount Markham has been invited to share the success of their program at a district meeting in Cooperstown, NY.
“Mount Markham faculty and community members will be presenting at the 2018 NY Rural Schools Association & Rural Schools Program Annual Conference on July 10, 2018 at the Otesaga Resort in Cooperstown,” reports Lindsey. “Dr. Berry (Superintendent), Tom Huxtable (Board of Education President), Victor Zampetti (High School Principal), Eric Bugbee (High School Agriculture Teacher), Katie Lindsey (Middle School CTE Teacher) and Tina Douglas (Parent and Community Member) will be presenting ‘Bringing Ag Education Back to a Proud Rural School District’.”
“The Mount Markham Central School District and surrounding community worked hard to re-instate their agriculture program,” acknowledges Lindsey, “and key players will share their experiences during this process in the presentation.”
“This has been a year of ‘firsts’ for us,” remarked Bugbee. “Our goal was to get to State Convention, which we achieved, and we’ve hit a lot of other marks along the way.”