Culver Comm High School Ag classes, FFA popular returned options

April Leeper, new Agriculture teacher at Culver Comm. High School (center) works with students recently in one of the newly-added Ag classes at the school. Students include, from left, Skyler Clemens, Jack Ryan, Mrs. Leeper, Liz Johnson, and Charles Binion.
Jeff Kenney
Citizen editor

For the first time in years, Culver Community High School is again offering Agriculture classes and opportunities for students to be active in a local chapter of Future Farmers of America, and arguably there's never been a more opportune time to do so.

Ag classes are underway at Culver Comm. Middle and High Schools, under the tutelage of teacher April Leeper, a former employee of Culver Elementary, after several years teaching the subject at Triton).

Ag classes -- like FFA -- were part of CCHS during the 1980s and into the `90s, but more recently Culver students wishing to avail themselves of Ag classes had to trek to Argos, whose school shared the program with Culver.

CCHS and CCMS principal Brett Berndt says the push for Ag at the school came more from the superintendent and board side of things as at least a possibility last year. A survey was sent to the middle and high schools and a "very good response" came back.

The program also flows nicely with the end of the school's in-house offerings in the area of industrial technology last year. That specific set of needs is being met more and more in recent years by various vocational programs in which Culver Community Schools participate, says Berndt, such as welding, auto tech, and building trades (the former two are located at other schools but offered through the multi-school cooperative to which Culver belongs; the latter is also part of a cooperative offering but has been based in Culver for more than three decades now).

These classes, alongside the Ag program and other shifts in approach within the school corporation, reflect an increasing diversification of offerings aimed at helping students who may not fit the traditional, four-year liberal arts educational model (though of course classes towards that end continue to be staples of CCHS' course offerings).

Hopefully the move will make Culver Community Schools more competitive in a public school atmosphere, as established in recent years at the state level in Indiana, which is increasingly more oriented to competition for student attendance. With school choice allowing students to choose which school to attend -- and a voucher program which allows state dollars to send students to private schools -- it's all the more important for Culver to "offer something (like Ag) when, if you don't, it makes it easier for families to choose to go to another schools," says Berndt.

"We were very lucky to grab someone like April with experience teaching this," he adds. "We're very pleased that she was with us at some other time (at Culver Elementary), so we knew of her."

Among offerings Leeper teachers are Intro to Ag, Plant and Soil Science, Ag Power -- which is oriented more towards welding and small engine construction -- and Ag Business Management, which centers on starting one's own business. Leeper says next year she hopes to add Animal Science to the mix. It's all indicative of the way agriculture itself has changed, and is now far removed from simply tilling one's soil and planting/harvesting. In fact, a concentration in agriculture as a career may well mean earning a college degree nowadays.

All CCMS 8th graders take Intro to Ag, and animal and plant science follows.

"Then you can build on that and go whichever pathway you want to go on."

Leeper is also hoping next year to add college credit courses.

The return of FFA to the school, also under Leeper's leadership, has been a hit as well. An extracurricular activity, FFA members can work their way up to state and national-level competitions and leadership contests.

"Hopefully we will raise some funds so everyone can get their blue jackets and go on trips and to camps," says Leeper, noting around 40 students have already turned in their paperwork, in addition to some 15 8th graders.

"I'm excited to be here and that the program is doing so well so early," Leeper says. "I just hope that it keeps growing."

In a somewhat similar vein, CCHS has launched its Project Lead the Way classes in Engineering this semester as well, with former Culver Middle School principal George Irvin as teacher.

PLtW is a multi-county endeavor to encourage schools to offer courses with the area of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) curricula, in order to ensure a ready workforce for economic development in line with national and statewide standards within those industries.

Substantial funding to help get those courses underway came by way of the Culver Redevelopment Commission, earlier this year.