Spirit of Alabama: Local school gets a personal look at agriculture

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With today’s challenges of feeding hungry people around the world, agriculture research and modern farming is becoming more and more important. Here in Tuscaloosa, the Tuscaloosa Career and Technology Academy has a popular Agri-Science class teaching high schoolers what it takes to bring food from farm to table.

Instructor Carl Hughes said it’s a subject best taught with real-life experiences.

“We have a focus on having hands-on experimental project-based learning here at TCTA, particularly in my program,” Hughes said. “What I’ve done or tried to build here for the students is to have some really interactive, cutting-edge agricultural projects here.”

A few of the students said they came to class with a little animal or gardening experience, but for most, this is new and exciting. The Agri-Science class involves learning opportunities not found in most classrooms.

For example, there’s a vocal rooster named Rosco who keeps watch over the hens who share his home. Bunnies who have a tendency to, well, reproduce like bunnies. Aquaponics barrels with fish of all sizes. And even more.

Northridge High School senior Scottie Hollins said he’s learning lessons that will help him later in life.

“This class is teaching me stuff that not like a normal math class would teach me,” he said. “I’m learning how plants work, how to manage animals. It’s really helping me if I ever wanted to go into this field, I’d know a lot of stuff about it.”

Stella Watkins, who’s also a senior at Northridge, didn’t come to class as a stranger to these topics. But that just made her eager to learn more, she said.

We have a lot of animals at our house and we have plants and a garden at our house, and I figured I can take things from this class and apply them to my life,” Watkins said.

Hughes makes the class fun, and his hands-on approach is clearly appealing. Where else are you gonna find a class where you can catch a koi fish or hold a baby bunny?

That’s all part of the learning here, Hughes said.

“Over time we go through a process where I introduce the rabbits, the chickens, the fish, the animals to them,” he said. “And over time they become more and more comfortable with them handling them, dealing with them, maintaining their habitats, feeding them and doing health checks.  They’re pretty on board by the end of the first semester.”

Scottie Hollins said he likes everything about this class, but it wouldn’t be the same without Hughes.

“Mr. Hughes is really cool; he’s been one of my favorite teachers that like I’ve ever had,” Hollins said. “He asks how we’re doing every day.  He’s really kind, and you get to know him and then he tells you what to do.  He’s been a really good teacher. He’s actually taught me some stuff I can carry through the rest of my life.”

It’s all business in the Fundamentals of Agri-Science class, so there’s no time for goofing off. But that business is exposing bright young minds to new experiences and careers so one day they might be part of ensuring food gets to your table.

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