Our Town York: High school ag program popular with students

Pure Nebraska
Published: Dec. 7, 2022 at 10:20 AM CST|Updated: Dec. 7, 2022 at 10:33 AM CST
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YORK, Neb. (KOLN) - Several students have chosen a career in agriculture, thanks to their experiences with the York High School agriculture program.

Jason Hirschfeld is one of two ag teachers at the school. He focuses on animal science.

“We have more than 170 kids signed up for animal science alone this school year,” Hirschfeld said.

The school offers an extensive ‘live animal lab’.

“Each kid is partnered with an animal, and each quarter, they rotate their animals, so they get another learning experience,” Hirschfeld said. “We teach them all the parts and pieces of an animal, how to judge them, how to evaluate them, and we’ll rotate from pigs, to sheep, to goats, to cattle. We’ll even bring in horses, where kids get to ride a horse. A lot of the students have never done that. We’ll bring in a dairy cow where the kids get to milk the dairy cow.”

The kids even learn about the life cycle of a chicken.

“Students have to track growth and development, calculate the average daily gain, feed efficiency, and we even harvest the chickens,” Hirschfeld said. “The following day, they have to prepare a meal using their chicken, and we have a cook-off. We have judges select the best-tasting chicken. We do a lot of start to finish, and truly understand and appreciate where our food came from.”

What’s exciting about the York High School ag program is that many students enrolled are not from the farm.

“We did a survey a few years back and of the 200-plus kids in FFA, I think only 11 kids came from a production farm where their family makes their income off the farm,” Hirschfeld said.

The FFA program is definitely popular at York High School.

“Within the three-ring model, ag education is one component, and that’s our classroom,” Hirschfeld said. “We also have FFA as another component, and then supervised ag experiences is the third component. Within FFA, our numbers of kids participating are getting huge.”

That growth could be because kids are getting interested early.

“I teach middle school classes in the morning which allows us to have a full middle school program or junior high program,” Hirschfeld said. “We are having close to 130-plus kids in middle school and high school joining FFA.”

The kids have their own FFA room.

“That’s where all the planning happens, where the meetings happen, and where the training for contests happen,” Hirschfeld said. Service is a big part of this FFA program. “We are trying to teach these kids how to be servant leaders,” Hirschfeld said.

Beyond the animal science and FFA programs, kids get the chance to work in a greenhouse.

“We are really fortunate to have a great greenhouse here in York,” ag teacher Rachelle Staehr said. “Our community provided that for us, which we are very thankful for. The students are able to learn how to reproduce and propagate their own plants just like individuals do it in the industry. They also get to learn a lot about floral design and landscape design.”

Staehr not only teaches horticulture, but also teaches all of the welding classes.

“I average about 20 kids per welding class,” Staehr said. “We were really fortunate to expand our welding shop after our numbers grew, so we have 20 different welding booths that house all different welding processes. I’m able to teach kids who have never welded before about every single welding process, and how to be safe around that.”

In these classes, kids learn more than just welding.

“They learn how to advocate for themselves, how to interview, create a resume, how to look for a career that will suit them,” Staehr said. “Some students will never weld again, but it’s really cool because they get to experience something they never would have before in their entire lives.”

The future looks bright for the York High School ag program, as a capital campaign is getting underway to build a new ag complex at the school.

“This complex would encompass two different classrooms, a live animal lab, and a room where kids could house animals to show at the fair,” Hirschfeld said. “In addition to another FFA room, the building would be a $3 million purchase, and this is all going to be raised through community support. The sky’s the limit. We are going to continue to grow and expand, and create awesome experiences for kids and people in our community.”