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Ag curriculum offers growing challenge

Ag curriculum offers growing challenge
Ag curriculum offers growing challenge
Gary Geswein, the part-time ag teacher at Lanesville Junior-Senior High School, checks plants in the greenhouse. (Photo by Jo Ann Spieth-Saylor)

Plants and various science projects in the greenhouse at Lanesville Junior-Senior High School aren’t the only things growing in the Franklin Township school corporation.
Beginning with the 2006-07 school year, Lanesville is expanding its agriculture department and will offer a full day of courses for students interested in plants and animals. Because of changes by the Indiana Dept. of Education, students who opt to study in the field of agriculture can still earn an academic honors diploma or complete their Core 40 diploma requirements.
‘The curriculum is more mandated than it was 20 years ago,’ said Gary Geswein, adding that improvements in technology have ‘increased the need for bright people to take (agriculture) forward.’
Geswein has been teaching a couple of ag courses at Lanesville the past three years, after being coaxed out of retirement. (He left the classroom four years ago as an ag teacher at North Harrison High.)
‘We’ve had good curriculum but not much was offered in the management side of animals and plants,’ he said.
The expanded curriculum will give students, including for the first time seventh and eighth graders, more opportunities to study a wide range of interests.
‘Some students will stick with it and make a major out of it,’ Geswein said.
And, he said, it should help reduce the ‘brain drain’ many people see as a problem in Harrison County.
‘We’re starting to see people come back to work (here) besides just teaching,’ Geswein said. ‘The infrastructure is starting to be there to make that happen.’
As part of the agricultural education program, students will have an opportunity to build a solid foundation of academic knowledge and ample opportunities to apply what they learn through classroom activities, lab work and supervised agricultural experiences.
In the course and program descriptions, an introduction about agricultural education says: ‘It is important to understand and reaffirm that career-technical experiences do not preclude students from going on to a higher education; in fact, participation actually enhances the opportunity.’
Students who earn a post-secondary degree in the ag field could choose a career in a multitude of categories, Geswein said, including the food industry, private and public industry, natural resources, landscape design, ag economics, bio chemistry, horticulture and farm management.
‘Opportunities for students are just overwhelming if they’ll just pursue them,’ Geswein said.
Until earlier this month, ag-based classes met in a portable classroom on the southwest side of the school buildings. The temporary structure was removed on March 16 and will be replaced with a block building that will still be separate from the rest of the school. Geswein said instead of chairs with writing arms, the new structure will be equipped with tables.
Students also have access to a 30-by-48-foot greenhouse, funded with donations and a grant from the Harrison County Community Foundation. Construction of the greenhouse began in the fall of 2004, and it was finished just more than a year ago. Geswein said a lot of community work and labor by students went into the project.
Students use the greenhouse to grow plants for an annual sale and to house their projects. Some of their work was used to create a miniature garden outside the school’s west entrance. Seeds have been planted in the minds of elementary students at Lanesville, too, through presentations the older students have made to them.
Geswein first had the idea for having students complete research projects when a grant he received nearly three decades ago allowed him to join other educators for a visit to the Food Pavilion at Disney World in Orlando.
‘Students are used to working in groups,’ he said, but Geswein has them doing individual projects that require them to record data and turn in reports. ‘It doesn’t take long to see the results,’ he said.
Also since Geswein joined the staff at Lanesville, an FFA chapter was organized at the school. About 25 students have joined the volunteer organization.
A committee of business people, farmers, contractors, school personnel and horticulturists have been meeting the last 3-1/2 years to develop a plan for bringing a full-time ag program to Lanesville. Geswein applauds them for their efforts and has no regrets about retiring, again.
‘I can’t be around (the students) full time’ due to his contract, he said. ‘With a teacher being here all day, the students will have more opportunities.
‘It’s a new program, so it’s going to take some time,’ Geswein said, but he is confident there will be enough students interested in the program to make it succeed.
Lanesville students began the enrollment process for the next school year earlier this month, before breaking for the current intersession and a week’s vacation. Geswein said students who may have neglected to enroll in an ag course will still have the opportunity to do so when they return to the classroom next week.
Geswein is ready to retire, again, but will continue to farm with his brother. He’ll also have more time to spend with his wife, Jean, a teacher at North Harrison Elementary School, who is retiring at the end of this school year. He believes he has helped move the Lanesville ag program along and is leaving it in good shape for his successor, who has not been selected yet.
‘I’m thinking it worked out real well,’ Geswein said. ‘Things are moving along rather well (at Lanesville). A lot of good positive things are happening here.’