FAIRMOUNT — Courtney Tate instructed the students in the animal science class to fine-crush the saltine crackers in the plastic zip-close bag.
“Crunch ’em up as much as you would chew ’em,” the first-year teacher told her students.
She then instructed the students to add half a banana and some water before mashing everything together.
“Now, you’re going to simulate the churning of the stomach. You’re going to churn it for at least five minutes,” she said.
The hands-on exercise was a way of demonstrating the digestive systems of livestock.
The animal science class is one of two, including introduction to agriculture, offered this year to students at Madison-Grant Jr.-Sr. High School. Each of the 200 students in the seventh and eighth grades at the school also do agriculture studies rotations.
Madison-Grant is one of several Madison County school districts that offer agriculture-related classes as part of the new academic pathways. Those pathways help students figure out their career goals, whether they lead to four-year colleges or trade programs and certifications.
The agriculture pathways offered at Madison-Grant are animal systems and agriculture power structure in technology systems.
The district has supported the new pathway in its renovations of the school that include an agriculture wing. The school also recently created a Future Farmers of America chapter and is working with Ivy Tech Community College in Marion so students can have agriculture-related certifications by the time they graduate.
“Revitalizing our agriculture program and reintroducing FFA is a boon to our community because that industry is the heart of our Madison-Grant community,” said the district’s Superintendent Scott Deetz.
The classes are a way to introduce the students, many of whom are growing up on farms, to the variety of careers they could pursue in agriculture, such as seed sales, information technology or laboratory science.
“It’s not about going out and being on a farm every day. There’s more to it than that,” she said.
In fact, Tate, whose degree from Purdue University is in agriculture education, is an example of someone whose career doesn’t directly involve farming.
“I’m not in the farming world, but I’m still in the agriculture industry,” she said.
The digestive tract activity is one of many hands-on activities in which the students engage. For instance, they also designed and built models of farm facilities for livestock and created imaginary mega-breeds of certain livestock in which they paired five or more traits from different animals of the same species.
“Some of them got up to 15 different breeds,” Tate said.
The agriculture curriculum, which is expected to be expanded over the next couple of years with classes in agribusiness management, supports many of the Indiana standards of the regular academic curriculum by being more hands-on than theoretical, Tate said. The animal science elective also can double as a Core 40 science course.
“Science might not be their strongest suit, but they come here and say, ‘Oh, I understand this in a different way,’” she said.
The FFA membership also builds leadership skills, said Tate and Madison-Grant Principal Bengamin Mann, because the students developed their own constitution and bylaws.
“It’s been an awesome learning experience for our students,” Mann said.
He said the agriculture pathway also builds relationships.
“This gives us another opportunity to engage students in our building,” he said.
And like athletes who wear letter jackets, the distinctive blue corduroy FFA jackets for which students are being measured will instill pride, Mann said.
“It gives that sense of ownership,” he said.
Brandi Hodupp, 16, is president of Madison-Grant’s FFA chapter.
“I just want to support the community to help that more,” the junior said.
Hodupp, who grew up on a farm near Jonesboro specializing in straw and hay, mums and pumpkins, also has shown swine through 4-H and was excited to be able to take an agriculture class. She hopes to one day attend Purdue or a college in Kansas or Oklahoma to study some aspect of agriculture before joining the family business.
“I wanted to further my knowledge and see if I could learn something else,” she said.