Learn skills for the future

There are few textbooks and worksheets, and lots of group and individual work in the shop, labs and greenhouse of the vocational agriculture program at Hart Career Center. And, that's the way the two new teachers and the students in the program like it.
Kendra Allen and Tyler Burgin both teach horticulture classes, and then divide the teaching of the other classes in the program. All the classes are project-based, with emphasis on cooperative learning.
"We not only teach hard skills, but also we lead our students in using the soft skills of team work, staying on task, and bringing projects to completion," Allen said. "We teach what employers are looking for."
A favorite project of the students in the Ag Construction class was the making of bird houses. Instead of buying new material, the students used scrap lumber. Each team of two students was given a blue print of various bird houses.
"The students had to make do with what was available," Burgin said. "The students had to use math and other skills to adapt the plans to build the bird houses."
The class members built 12 bird houses, which were then sold to the public. "We are always looking for projects to do, so if any community members have ideas we would like to hear them," Burgin said.
Earlier in the year, the students in the horticulture classes designed a fantasy farmers market. After research, the students chose four plants for their 50' by 100' garden plot. They could select any vegetable, such as pumpkins, broccoli, spinach and tomatoes. At the end of the "growing season" the students calculated how much profit they would have made, based on retail price and average production.
The ag construction class members made two deer stands, which allowed students to learn skills in metal and woodworking while creating a product for the community.
Seniors Jake Willer and Justin Webber are teaming to make a boom to go on skid loader for Willer's father. "My dad asked if I could make this piece of equipment for some new construction to be used for cattle," Willer said. "Mr. Burgin said OK, so my dad bought the supplies and we got a plan and are building the boom."
In the Food Science class, students are currently designing a sweet product which will appeal to children. "The students were given a bag of ingredients, such as marshmallows and chocolate chips, and they have to make a new product," Allen said. "We started with some class notes and brainstorming. Then the students were given one week to design a snack. They had to test their project with other groups, research how to get a food product on the market, and then will give a final presentation to the class."
Working with sweet ingredients wasn't too difficult for the class members."The other groups said our marshmallow and cereal product, "Chocolate CoCo Crispies," was really good," Brad Rothermich, senior, said. "I enjoy the ag classes, and how they relate to every day life." Rothermich's team members were fellow seniors Amanda Beal, Nicole Hagan and Melanie Worley.
For the classes, Allen and Burgin develop projects which mimic the work place and attach skills such as critical thinking, creativity and math to the assignments.The ideas for the projects come from various sources. "We see what other Ag teachers have done, and look for cooperative learning projects on the Internet," Allen said. "In all our classes we rely on each other's strengths, such as Tyler is best in the shop and I specialize in animal science."
Allen and Burgin also co-sponsor FFA and the trap shooting team. The team involves approximately 25 students, who compete in shoots with other FFA teams in the northeast Missouri area. The team will attend the state trap shoot April 27.
There are 85 Mexico students from all four grades, along with a few post-high students in FFA. Each year members attend the state and national convention, have a barnwarming, degree ceremony and organize a full week of activities for FFA week. In December, members hosted a chili supper as a fundraiser which also accepted canned food donations for The Help Center.
This year, FFA week will be Feb. 16-23. There will be activities each day, including an area FFA volleyball tournament, dress up days, and a supporter's breakfast Feb. 21 for all members of the community who have contributed to the organization. Members also will attend the Western Farm Show in Kansas City.
All of the projects and activities are important to the teaching philosophy of Allen and Burgin.
"Students gain skills in real job situations coupled with critical thinking and their own creativity to accomplish tasks," Burgin said. "The more skills a student has when leaving our program the more learning potential they will have and more opportunities they will have, whether that be in a career or in saving themselves money by knowing the skills that others would normally pay for."