(Jan. 11, 2021) The Kentucky School Boards Association has selected Carroll County Schools as the Fall 2020 recipient of the Public Education Achieves in Kentucky (PEAK) Award.
KSBA’s Public Education Achieves in Kentucky (PEAK) Award, given twice yearly, was established in 1997 to focus statewide attention on outstanding public school efforts that enhance student learning and promote the positive impact of public elementary and secondary education in Kentucky.
At the turn of the 20th century, Carroll County was a farming community with more than 1,100 farms and 80,000 acres of farmland. Fast forward more than 100 years and those agricultural roots have diminished with 72% fewer farms.
Carroll County Schools recognized a need for the community to focus on its agricultural roots and decided to make its agriculture program a priority.
“Farming is not what it once was in rural areas like Carroll. The decline of farming has had an economic impact on our community, but it has also had a cultural impact that has affected the young people who call our community home,” Carroll County board Chairman Rob Spenneberg wrote in a letter supporting the nomination of the program for KSBA’s PEAK Award.
Since focusing on agriculture, the district has seen an increase in student interest and participation in its Supervised Agriculture Experience (SAE) program. In 2014, there were just 20 students in the program, logging 644 hours of work. In 2019, the program had grown to 116 students and 8,362 hours.
“The Double C Farm has changed the way that we view learning in the Carroll County School District,” said Superintendent Danny Osborne.
“The collaboration from our community has been incredible. The City of Carrollton as well as Carroll County leadership through the fiscal court has been on board the entire time and have made this project possible.”
Carroll County’s award marks the 52nd PEAK Award and the first solo selection for Carroll County Schools. The district was recognized previously as part of a multi-district entry for iLEAD Academy.
“This project provided very clear objectives that can be easily monitored. It is clearly focused on skills needed in the area and operates in partnership with the community,” wrote award judge Debbie Wesslund, board leadership and training consultant for KSBA.
“What a unique and resourceful way to give students the experience and learn the importance of agriculture education,” wrote judge Christine Thompson, a member of KSBA’s Board of Directors. “The Farm program is an example of helping students understand the relevance of the material they learn in classes and the importance of understanding the value of agriculture in our society.”
Students in the program learn at what the district calls Double C Farm.
“From building and improving stalls, (from) the daily care to the final processing, students have been given a wide array of opportunities,” wrote Carroll County agriculture teachers Mackenzie Wright, Sabrina Stephenson and Maddie Gilbreath in a joint nomination for the award.
“The courses offered at the high school have increased student knowledge of how to properly care and grow the farm in the correct ways. The farm has allowed them to put that knowledge into action.”
Students are involved in the daily feedings, showing animals at county fairs, processing of several farm products and in growing and harvesting produce.
“Having the farm accessible to the students gives the students something tangible and helps to bring the classroom lessons to life. They are able to feed and clean the stalls along with other jobs around the farm. They are also able to work with the animals, even clipping the wings of turkeys,” wrote Torie Hewitt, the mother of two students in the Carroll County agriculture pathway.
Carroll County Schools operates the farm on property known as Camp KYSOC. The district uses the facilities and pasture as a working farm.
“It doesn’t get any more ‘real world’ than farming,” Osborne said. “The pandemic has given us all a greater appreciation of the fundamentals, and our students are learning true fundamentals: food production, budgeting and planning, animal science, and more. Carroll County has a long tradition of agriculture, and we are proud to be part of carrying that tradition forward.”
The Carroll County Fiscal Court partnered with the district to cover all utility bills for the farm’s operation. Ongoing expenses are paid by the district and through fundraising.
“Our district and our community are committed to this project, and we only want to see it grow. The hard work and technical skills that our agriculture students are acquiring will serve them throughout their lives. We hope other school districts can replicate this program and help us carry agriculture forward through a new generation,” Osborne said.
Since 2015, Carroll County’s agriculture program has expanded from one to three teachers, at a cost of more than $100,000 per year. While the district’s high school program has existed for decades, it expanded to the middle school in 2018.
“The Farm is bigger than our agriculture program. It is bigger than our school district. It is a community-wide effort that has involved the collaboration of our school district, volunteers and county leadership. There is so much support for this program because we all know that student engagement drives learning. Without engagement, there is no learning. The engagement is there with The Farm,” Spenneberg wrote.
By engaging students and reconnecting them to their agricultural heritage, it opens up additional learning opportunities, especially in STEM fields.
“Agriculture is both an art and a science. Our farm is a place where students can learn about the art and science of agriculture. Many students are uninterested in learning mathematics from a textbook. However, those same students will work hard to figure out fertilizer ratios or the relationship of cattle prices to the larger commodities market,” he wrote. “Our school board believes in this project, and we will continue to support it because we believe in it.”