The Ledyard High School agri-science program had an open house on Saturday, April 24 for eighth-graders in its 12-town service area.
The program is one of several regional agri-science and technology centers around the state, serving students from Ledyard as well as Groton, Waterford, Stonington, North Stonington, East Lyme, Lyme, Old Lyme, New London, Norwich, Montville, Lisbon and Preston.
“Each November, we normally hold an eighth-grade open house but we could not do that this year due to COVID,” said Devon O’Keefe, who is an instructional leader within the department and an animal science teacher, “so we offered an outdoor walk-through open house for eighth-graders in southeastern Connecticut to check out our program and ask questions.”
“We typically would have an indoor open house to let potential applicants experience what we do and meet students and staff from the program,” said Robert Williams, one of five agri-science and technology teachers at Ledyard High School who teaches primarily in the area of agricultural mechanics. “With the COVID-19 pandemic, we were unable to have our usual event. This was an attempt to give potential students and their parents an opportunity to experience what we do without actually going into the school building.”
Williams said he hoped students would seeing that the program can meet the interests of a wide variety of students, while they also would be attending a comprehensive high school with all the usual educational and extracurricular opportunities.
“Many of today’s challenges to society: environmental challenges, food insecurity, water shortages and even financial insecurity will require a generation of people who have the technical knowledge and skills that our program provides,” he said. “Furthermore, in an increasingly ‘virtual’ world, we provide authentic, real-world, hands-on experiences that many students need and crave.”
Today’s high school students have a myriad of choices when it comes to their education. They may attend public school, private school, charter, magnet, homeschool, or the Ledyard High School Agri-Science Program.
“We offer courses in livestock and companion animal sciences, horticulture, aquaculture, agricultural mechanics and natural resources,” said agriculture and animal science teacher Laura Manzi-Smith. “Our pathways provide students with an opportunity to earn industry certifications and college credits in addition to gaining content specific and leadership skills.”
Aquaculture teacher Matthew Smith described the open house as “a mixed orientation for incoming students and a moment to showcase our program to potential students. High school students have so many choices that it’s probably overwhelming, if we can provide a glimpse of what we do, it may help them with that decision.”
Regarding the pandemic, Smith said, “We’ve encountered a lot of challenges. It’s really difficult to teach a hands-on course through a computer. Taking care of our living organisms and providing students with meaningful experiences has been tough. With the help of our administration, we’ve been able to get these kids back into the classroom as much as possible.”
“LHS Agri-Science is a hands-on program — through and through,” he said. “Students will have ample opportunity to get out of their seats and connect their minds to their hands. Most of our students thrive with this type of learning.”
“The program is a fun, exciting, hands-on learning experience, said Liam Moran, a junior in the program. “You get to learn about all the different Agri-Science program offerings before you choose your pathway.”
“I think this program is important because our country’s future depends on a new generation taking on and improving the farming and agricultural industry,” he said.
When deciding whether to attend the agri-science program, Moran said that he chose the program because “they offer a unique learning experience in classes that interest me outside the usual academic setting. I am studying aquaculture in the Agri-Science program, which is a field I hope to pursue in college and beyond.”
Moran said that he has nothing but positive words for the Agri-Science program and enjoys all his classes, teachers, and classmates.
“I would recommend the Agri-Science program at LHS to any student who is looking for a fun learning environment,” he added.
For more information about the program, visit ledyardagriscience.com.
Aidan Schuler lives in Ledyard and is a member of the Times’ Young Journalists Initiative.