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Watch now: Student interests drive Sangamon Valley ag program

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Agriculture Program at Sangamon Valley High School.

NIANTIC – Sangamon Valley High School sophomore Tiffany Fryman got interested in FFA because her brother, who was a senior last year, came home raving about how wonderful it was.

“Last year, I was very involved and got a lot going on and it was really fun, so I just decided to stick with it,” she said.

Jasyn Wood, a junior, found FFA due to the ag classes he took when he was a freshman. He's interested in a career in ag mechanics, keeping the tractors and other equipment running.

“We are very involved through the community and different activities and competitions that we do,” he said. “Mrs. (Britney) Denton does a great job and we do a lot in the greenhouse and in the ag shop and pretty much all of our classes, us students run. It's really hands-on for us to do.”

Giving students the lead in choosing what they study in ag, Denton said, is what has made the program grow and thrive. Every summer, she takes further training in ag education from Curriculum in Agricultural Science Education, and using what she learns keeps the classes fresh.

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Students Tiffany Fryman, left, and Jasyn Wood check out the plants in the greenhouse at Sangamon Valley High School. The plants grown in the greenhouse are sold and the funds used to support the expanding program. Visit to see a video about the agriculture program at the school.

“I came here seven years ago and since then, we've kind of moved from more traditional ag classes to more science-based ag classes that kind of go with where the industry trends are currently,” Denton said. “We added the greenhouse in 2017 and since then we've kind of switched our curriculum to more of the student-led type of curriculum and scientific inquiry. The students are doing more discovery on their own rather than me leading them to it.”

A new class this year, she said, is animal science. The students are actively discovering careers in the animal care industry, she said, while other students are studying plant science.

The greenhouse allows them to grow plants to sell in an annual plant sale that serves as a fundraiser for the program, and they've started a raised-bed garden behind the greenhouse that will serve as a community garden. Students raised funds themselves and the school board approved some funds for the project, too.

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Tiffany Fryman shows off the raised-bed garden at Sangamon Valley High Schoo lthat will serve as a community garden. In addition to learning about plants, the ag program highlights various aspects of the changing industry to include mechanics and animal care.

High school Principal Jonathan Field said the teacher who began the program retired before he started working for the district, but Denton began the same year Field did.

“She came in and had a lot of new ideas and, I think, injected new life into the program,” he said. “They do a lot of great things around the school and in the community. It's been a tremendous thing for students, especially given where we live, and agriculture being kind of a staple. I know certainly where I grew up in Southern Illinois it was a staple, and here we're surrounded by corn fields and bean fields. It's really good to expose kids to that, and a lot of them do have things going on at home, where they live on a farm, or sometimes they have chickens or bees or whatever else they learn through Supervised Agricultural Experience (an FFA activity).”

Those activities give them hands-on experience in running a small business and require them to keep books and be responsible for every aspect of that small business, he said. Students have started lawn-mowing businesses under the program, and done so well that they received state recognition from FFA.

“It's a very real-world endeavor,” Field said. “You're not just learning about pigs and chickens and cows and crops. You're doing a lot of things that go to the economic side of it, and managing and running things.”

Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter


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