Opportunities for agriculture students are seemingly unlimited at the new Waxahachie High School. With a vast department and accessibility, larger projects can be constructed that will lead to a larger impact in the community.
The first thing a visitor will notice outside the agriculture department is a state-of-the-art greenhouse. This conservatory is an impressive item for the horticulture classes, especially considering the 40-year-old greenhouse on the former campus was constructed — masterfully and slightly larger — by students.
“This one is state-of-the-art and runs off of computerized technology," said Jeanette Middleton, a longtime Waxahachie High FFA advisor and agricultural science teacher. "It’s pretty cool to look at, and it’s kind of hard for me to fathom that I don’t have to go out there in the morning to adjust something. It knows when it needs to be watered, cooled, or heated up. It’s pretty amazing, and I’m excited to have the community to come and see that. It’s going to be a totally different sense of pride for these kids.”
The students will study how to operate the climate control as well. This knowledge will be considered new to the curriculum, but everything else will remain the same. Middleton also hopes to implement a floral design class next year.
The greenhouse before was about 100 feet by 80 and, though the current one is a little smaller it is more functional and entirely self-efficient. The layout also allows the greenhouse to produce and maintain just as much product as before.
Starting day one, the students will begin growing the greens provided to the annual Farm-to-Table event hosted by the WHS culinary art students and the Ellis County Master Gardeners. Other produce and florals will be grown here as well.
The agriculture mechanics and animal science courses will share much of the same equipment, but the space allotted will advance the projects built. Middleton mentioned how the previous shop was not easily assessable.
“You could barely pull a truck into it,” added fellow WHS agriculture science teacher James Glenn.
The exterior of the shop at the new campus is equipped with a loading dock station with various roll-up garage doors.
“We should be able to create larger projects now. And allow kids to compete with trailers in shows and that nature. And of course, anything that anyone needs worked on as opposed to them pulling it out of the driveway and us working out there, we will be able to pull stuff in and out of the shop now," said Brooks Humphrey, an agriculture teacher who teaches ag mechanics.
Humphrey mentioned the new computer numerical control machine is industrial equipment that will expose the students to a professional tool.
“Pretty much if you go into any machine shop or fabrication shop nowadays, if they don’t have one — they are behind. Honestly, most schools have had that CNC machine for the past 10 years," Humphrey elaborated.
Humphrey stressed how versatile and precise the expensive tool is, noting students will now utilize the technology to create the same objects they were before.
“They still have to figure out how to design and layout their own project on the computer aid drafting system, but they are able to put it in mass production opposed to drawing it on a piece of metal and hopefully you have a steady enough hand to cut it out," Humphrey relayed.
He then pointed out the CNC machine creates more opportunities for students with special needs who could be uncomfortable with a torch.
Waxahachie High School CTE Director Mark Bosher expressed the CNC machine was one of the most significant and costly pieces of equipment purchased for the department.
The classrooms are connected to the shops, and a window between the two allows the instructors to have continuous lines of visibility. With the usage of power tools and heavy equipment, monitoring the students is essential.
The agriculture professors will also be able to keep a better eye on when non-students approach the shop for help or to drop off supplies.
Middleton pointed out the vicinity will make it easier to collaborate with other CTE educators, as well.
On the FFA roster, there are about 430 students in total. Now, the ninth graders will be integrated into the high school. “I think that being split for our program was probably one of the hardest things because the ninth grade class is so vital as far as growing your program,” Middleton emphasized. “And those kids are kind of disconnected to the chapter. And when you disconnect 120 members from the rest of the group you don’t get that sense of family.”
The horticulture class hosts two sales a year — one at the Lawn and Garden Expo at the Waxahachie Civic Center and their own at the greenhouse afterward. Middleton now intends to host a fall and spring sale at the greenhouse.
All three agriculture professors expressed how the work conducted within the department impacts the community and is willing to help when they can, providing their students with a variety of experiences.
“I think that’s something we will attempt to do this year expands on what we already do,” Middleton said.
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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450