Hulett School Farm: Providing a hands-on learning experience to students of all ages
June 4, 2013
Since 2010, Northeastern Wyoming's Hulett school system has had the unique opportunity to learn and benefit from their own personal school farm. Implemented by Vocational Ag Teacher and FFA Advisor Jim Pannell, the two-acre farm has fast become an integral part of his teaching curriculum in addition to providing hands-on experience with animals to local children of all ages.
"2010 was my first year back teaching after a 25-year hiatus into the cattle ranching world," began Jim with a laugh. "When I came back, I talked to the lady that owns the property right across the street from the school about this idea, and we made a deal for the school to lease the place for a farm. It's gone so well that we are now in the process of buying those two acres from her, and I'm told it may very well be the first outdoor classroom in Wyoming for elementary through high school age students."
Upon securing the lease, Jim and several of his students got right to work building a couple barns, converting an old concession stand into a chicken house, and building corrals.
"One challenge we have is being limited in size, which is probably a good thing – I'm not looking for another full-time ranching job to go with teaching. When we were designing the corrals, I had to remind these two ranch boys helping me that we would maybe be working with eight-10 head at most. They both came from larger operations, and were struggling to get a 200-head set of corrals designed on part of two acres. The idea was to have a workable setup for our needs as we built and designed everything, which was a great learning experience for all the students involved," noted Jim of the lessons that started right at the beginning.
Today the farm houses around 40 chickens, eight Boer doe goats and 17 kids, and one bull owned by the FFA chapter that will be shown and hopefully sold at the Black Hills Stock Show next year. Various other animals come and go, with students often bringing in horses for demonstrations, and ranchers providing livestock to go along with what is being covered in class.
"The idea is that you can sit and talk about something forever – preg testing, vaccinating, you name it. I tell my kids that I can stand there all day telling them how to do something, but they'll never know how to do it until they actually give it a try. It's a whole different way of learning now that we can walk across the street and show them how to do it physically," Jim explained.
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Just recently, he was covering vaccinations and inoculations in class, and it coincided with five of the goats needing boosters. Jim had students take turns catching and injecting the goats, and they all learned how to actually give a shot.
"That's also one of the good things about goats – everything in them is about the same as cattle, except they eat a lot less feed and are much easier to handle. You probably don't have to worry about an old doe getting a kid down and hurting him," said Jim.
For more species specific topics, Jim said the local ranching community has been wonderful to work with, and readily supplies livestock whenever they are needed.
"We have some the best neighbors and support group in our local ranching community. They supply livestock whenever we ask, or whenever they have something we might learn from. They also always keep us in supply with hay, even on years like this when that's a pretty big deal," noted Jim.
When it comes to daily care, students of all ages pitch in and help. Two elementary students typically get out of part of their first period to gather eggs and care for the chickens in the mornings, and the FFA students pitch in on evenings and some weekends.
"Certain classes have certain duties. On the weekends either myself or the Industrial Arts teacher generally take care of things, but we also have a couple guys in FFA that are happy to come by if no one else has time. It's kind of a big deal to the kids, and they don't consider it work. There are some that would happily spend all day out there, cleaning pens or whatever else needs done," Jim explained.
Another big deal is witnessing an animal birth, something a surprising number of elementary students in relatively rural Northeastern Wyoming hadn't seen prior to the introduction of the school farm.
"It's a really neat deal for the elementary students too, and they utilize it quite a bit for a variety of things throughout the school year," said Jim of the positive impact the farm has had students of all ages.
Going forward, Jim hopes to continue expanding what topics he provides hands-on instruction in, listing preg testing near the top of that list, and also increasing the number of students who utilize the facilities to house their personal animal projects.
They held their first market goat prospect sale on May 5. "That has been another great educational thing for the kids – they are learning how to make sale brochures and run a sale firsthand as we go through the process," noted Jim.
He added that the success seen with the farm would never have been possible without such a strong backing and support system in the community and school administration.
"The school board and principal are all great. This is the second principal we've had since I've been here. The first was from ranching country, and the lady we have now grew up on a sheep ranch down by Upton, and is over at our farm regularly. The school board includes a lot of local ranchers, and the whole group couldn't be more supportive of our efforts," concluded Jim of the cooperative attitude that has resulted in such a successful means of teaching students a practical, hands-on agriculture curriculum at any age.