ROP students and their instructors work in the pumpkin patch at the University Farm.
Counter clockwise from right to left: Carole Bertagna, ROP instructor; Michael Marsh,
student; Sandee McCloskey, classroom aide; Fred Sherman, student; Jeff Carr,
classroom aide; Nicole Brown and Michelle Bender, students. (photo KM)
The collaborative relationship between the Butte County Office of Education (BCOE), the Butte County Regional Occupational Program (ROP), Butte County Charter Home School, and Chico State's University Farm is bringing students and educators together in a way that's bringing kudos from everyone involved.
The program is designed to provide Butte County Office of Education students with opportunities to develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to succeed in a variety of careers in agriculture and to provide University Farm students with an opportunity to develop instructional skills while working with a wide variety of students. Their goal is for all parties to develop a partnership that results in students being better prepared to pursue additional education at the University or enter the workforce.
The program's beginnings saw light in June 1995, when a group of people from the Butte County Office of Education, including Butte County Superintendent of Schools Jerry McGuire, met with the University Farm's Director of Operations, Ray Watkins. The meeting was designed to discuss partnerships that could help meet the needs of students in Butte County through the utilization of grounds and facilities at the University Farm.
"That was really the starting point," Watkins said. "There was a real desire to create a cooperative program that provided diverse opportunities for the students of Butte County and the University."
That initial brainstorming session brought forth a number of possibilities, including joint use of the facilities and grounds, the possible location of additional buildings for student programs, options for ROP and Private Industry Council (PlC) programs, and opportunities for job and career training.
By fall 1996, the collaboration was underway, and, Watkins laughed, projects around the farm were being finished by the students faster than the staff could keep up with them.
"I don't think we realized how much these students were going to help us," he said. "We couldn't plan projects fast enough."
John Nickerson, an instructor for ROP and teacher for Chico Senior High School, was instrumental in launching and developing the first programs held at the farm.
Through a mentorship with the Butte County Office of Education called "The Farm Connection," Nickerson met Watkins, and discussions began about how farm facilities could be developed.
"We started bringing ROP students to the farm, and they worked on cleaning sheep pens and on different projects around the facility," he said.
Then Nickerson met Bill Brent from Charter Home School, who was also bringing students to the facility to work on various projects, and new projects developed rapidly.
"Bill's students worked on building sheep units," he said. "My group worked on irrigation projects."
Their partnership continued, and, along with a student intern, they teamed up to create "The Lamb Project." This project involved students raising lambs to auction off at the fair. All in all, thirteen lambs were raised and auctioned.
That project, which ended in May, was just the beginning. In the meantime, Nickerson `s proposal to start a ten-week Summer Youth Program at the farm was accepted, and from June 9 to August 15, approximately forty students from ROP and Charter Home School took part in a forty-hour-per-week paid program at the farm. The program gave students hands-on experience in a variety of areas, including the ornamental horticulture, livestock, and U.S. Forestry units of the farm.
"All of the students, interns, and instructors were paid, "he said. "And we all shared resources, like transportation, for example."
"This program sets a good example," Watkins said. "Many departments who are funded by the state have limited resources. This is a great example of how we can work together and cooperate."
Not only do the students of the participating programs benefit, Watkins said, but these programs provide an opportunity for university students to get paid and earn credential requirements, as well.
As part of their agreement, the ROP and Charter Home School are required to provide a teacher to supervise the curriculum provided at the University Farm. This teacher accompanies the students and consults with the farm staff about current projects.
Now that the Summer Program has come to a close, students still continue to visit the Farm. Currently, Carol Bertagna, an ROP instructor, takes two groups per week to the farm, and, once a week Nickerson takes a group of Chico Senior High School students who have learning disabilities to the farm.
What does life on the farm look like for the future? At this point, the possibilities are endless. With interest in the program running high, all involved parties anticipate plenty to look forward to. And, they admit, they've got plenty of planning to do.
Continuation of the Summer Youth Program, though, will be made on a year-to-year basis. According to Nickerson, "It's all based on funding."
Watkins said that they are still in the planning stages for future programs, and he hopes that a meeting between the Butte County Board of Education and the provost and president of the University will happen in the near future to show them exactly what's been happening.
"It's been an extremely positive program," he said. "There's just so much opportunity."