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New Agriculture Program wins $5,000 grant

It has been over 40 years since Byron-Bergen Jr./Sr. High School had an agriculture program, but that’s changed. A new introduction to agriculture class was launched this fall, along with a new FFA chapter, and the school has just been awarded an Agriculture Education Incentive Grant for New and Growing Programs from Cornell University. The grant is an initiative to promote agricultural education in public school districts across New York State.

“It was time to restart the Ag program here,” said Superintendent Mickey Edwards. “We have a great Cornell Ag-certified teacher who is enthusiastic about building the program. We have experienced community members who were ready to step up and be part of our Advisory Committee. We have students who wanted the opportunity to learn and get involved. The question was only ‘when can we start?’”

“Mr. Parnapy and our advisory team have done a great job getting this off the ground,” said Jr./Sr. High School Principal Patrick McGee. “We only get one chance to roll something out, so we will be slowly expanding this program over the next few years. We believe we have the right pieces to have a top notch Ag education program at Byron-Bergen.”

Ag teacher Jeff Parnapy taught agriculture for eight years at Albion and New Berlin schools before coming to Byron-Bergen as a science teacher in 2000. He says that a good Ag program must include three components: classroom instruction, leadership development events through FFA, and supervised work experience. 

“We’re starting slowly, with an Agriculture Exploration class that is an elective for students in grades 9-12,” he said. “It covers a variety of topics, including soils and water, plant science and growth, animal science, methods of production, mechanical, small engines and fuel systems, and construction. We’re planning several field trips, including one to the NYS FFA convention in Rochester this spring, and a chance to attend FFA Camp at Oswegatchie this summer.”

Twenty students are in this first class. Many already have a strong interest in agriculture, participate in 4H, or come from families involved in the field. Some are interested in Genesee Valley BOCES programs in construction, conservation, animal science, or agribusiness and may use this as a stepping stone to further their career development.

“In two years, we hope to add another class in animal science or agricultural mechanics,” said Parnapy, “depending on student interest and input from our Advisory Committee.”

The school’s Advisory Committee includes expert volunteers from the community: several grain and vegetable crop farmers, a veterinarian, an agronomist, and a hobby farmer. They provide planning guidance now, and hope to increase their involvement as speakers, mentors, and resources as the program grows. 

Parnapy is actively building more resources and adding new ideas, especially as more local districts (including Pavilion, Warsaw, Attica and Elba/Alabama/Oakfield) add or grow their agriculture programs.

“Teachers working in this field in our area have a very cooperative mindset. Our kids can compete in FFA contests, but as educators we are happy to work together and share what we are doing in the classroom. Education is all about opening doors for kids so they can discover their interests,” he said. “If I can help them find their own paths, this program will be a success.” 

Cornell University’s Agriculture Education and Outreach program provides local school-based agricultural education programs with grant awards to secure necessary resources for a high-quality agricultural education program.  These resources may include curriculum development, professional development, program development, resource acquisitions, and program coordination. Currently, there are 176 schools offering agricultural education programs to over 10,000 students across New York State.

The National FFA is an intracurricular student organization for those interested in agriculture and leadership. FFA is not just for students who want to be production farmers; FFA also welcomes members who aspire to careers as teachers, doctors, scientists, or business owners. 
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