Cheraw High School in southeastern Colorado add agriculture education to its curriculum | TheFencePost.com

Cheraw High School in southeastern Colorado add agriculture education to its curriculum

Cheraw, Colo., students are now able to attend agriculture education classes and participate in FFA in the newly established program. In previous years, students in the southeastern Colorado community were able to participate only by driving to neighboring Rocky Ford for classes and meetings.

There's been a push, Tim Provost said, to begin an FFA chapter at Cheraw High School in the Arkansas Valley in southeastern Colorado. Now in its inaugural year with Provost at the helm, the program is off and running.

After the district's industrial arts program closed its doors in the 1990s, the gap for vocational instruction went unfilled in the small community where many students come from agricultural roots. Under new superintendent Matthew Snyder, a supportive school board, and community, it's Colorado's newest chapter. With a statewide shortage of teachers, especially agriculture teachers, Provost said, he realizes exactly the gravity of the accomplishment.

"There's a huge teacher shortage," he said. "Ag, math, science, English … you name it."

Provost said the state's agriculture teaching vacancies have all been filled, some were 11th hour hires, and many have been filled with individuals who didn't come through traditional teacher training but rather alternative licensure programs. Even in the shortage, he estimates the state has added three to five agriculture education programs per year.

The chapter's first fundraiser was a sweet tribute to the area's signature cantaloupe, serving ice cream in cantaloupe halves at Early Settlers Days in La Junta, Colo. Paired with funds raised from the chapter's upcoming Homecoming chili feed, the chapter will be able to fund their upcoming trip to National FFA Convention in October.

Cheraw FFA members will also attend the upcoming BIG Conference, designed for new FFA members to learn about the opportunities the program offers. Colorado Construction Days in Colorado Springs, Colo., and various other FFA leadership conferences are all on the schedule for the fall.

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Provost said the officer team is in place, the iconic blue corduroy jackets embroidered with Cheraw across the back are on order, and plans are developing for either a renovated or newly constructed home for the program.

Agriculture education programs often rely on advisory boards to support and guide the program. Provost said his board, comprised of several community members versed in different aspects of the agriculture industry, meets monthly and, as he said, has been put to work. Members include Brooke Matthews, who is also a member of the Cheraw School Board.

IMPORTANCE TO THE AREA

Matthews said the addition of the program allows students to participate in agriculture education in the district rather than traveling to a neighboring program, oftentimes only if scheduling would allow it.

"There's a huge teacher shortage and budgets — no school has enough money and rural schools even have less," she said. "This is something Cheraw has been talking about for at least the last two if not three years."

Discussion about the need and desire for the program began at the school accountability level and made it to the school board, where four of the five members have strong backgrounds and passions for agriculture, one of the major industries in the area.

Matthews said they were fortunate to be able to hire Provost, an experienced agriculture educator.

"It's difficult enough to build a program when you know what you're doing, let alone if you're swimming and trying to stay alive from day to day with lesson plans, let alone to have all the other types of activities that go along with it like building a shop and buying equipment," Matthews said.

In a agriculturally centered community like Cheraw, Matthews expects the program to serve the needs of students well with a mix of graduates going on to post-secondary education, the military, and into the workforce.

Provost came through the FFA program himself at Pueblo County High School under longtime teacher Carl Beeman. He attended Northeastern Junior College, Colorado State University, and later earned his master's degree from Adams State University. This is his 17th year in the classroom, most recently teaching agriculture at Crowley County.

"Great community, great advisory board, and a great group of kids to work with," he said. "It's all going to work out, one step at a time." ❖

-Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at rgabel@thefencepost.com or (970) 392-4410.