BURLEY — A high school teacher has developed an agricultural science program that gives mostly urban students a chance to mingle with nature.
Jaysa Fillmore started the program in 2014 at Cassia High after she was hired to fill a science position at the alternative school.
Most of her students, she said, live in town — in apartments or homes where gardening or raising animals is not possible.
“I don’t have a chance to grow things at our house,” student Alondra Fuentes, 17, said. “I love it.”
Fillmore laid tiny Brussel sprout and cabbage seeds into students’ waiting hands so they could plant them into plugs of soil on Thursday.
In the greenhouse, Jonathan Wardle, carefully sprayed water on the thirsty strawberry plants that had little nuggets of fruit already hanging on the vine.
The program, Wardle said, is awesome.
“I get to watch plants grow and take care of animals,” he said. “And I like doing that.”
At most schools agricultural science classes would be an elective but because they are the only science classes offered at the school, they are mandatory.
“I see most of the 120 students at the school at some point during the year,” Fillmore said. “It means I have to be more on my game and make the classes really interesting.”
The program is housed in the old Budge Field football locker room and all the work in the building to make it a classroom was completed by Fillmore and her students. They have also constructed a greenhouse and a barn that houses the student’s rabbits that are raised as FFA fair projects
“It gives context to science and math,” Fillmore said.
Right now there are seven students who are raising rabbits, meaning an additional commitment to meet during evening hours and during the summer to get ready for the fair.
“Most of them start out being motivated by the money,” Fillmore said, “but they usually find out they like the animals.”
The students take ownership of the animals providing for their care, although the animals are housed at the school.
The school purchases feed and houses the rabbits in return for the students keeping the barn clean and performing chores.
The students then get to keep the profit when the animals are sold at market.
If the students drop out before the sale, they have to pay a fine.
“I had to put some teeth into it,” Fillmore said.
She said the job can be “emotionally challenging.”
“It’s challenging, but it’s the most rewarding of any teaching job I’ve ever had,” she said.
While many agriculture science students at other Idaho high schools live on family farms, most of Fillmore’s students are several generations removed from the farm.
A lot of her students view agriculture as just being about farm labor or moving irrigation hand lines.
So Fillmore takes the students on field trips to local agricultural-based businesses like Fabri-Kal and dairies to expand their view.
“I love it, it’s my favorite class,” student Lily Lopez, 16, said, who especially enjoys horticulture. “I like to watch the process of things growing.”
For the students who sometimes encounter negative perceptions of their school within the community, participation in the FFA chapter can be especially rewarding.
“Dressed in their FFA outfits at state events they look just like all the other FFA members,” Fillmore said. “And they don’t feel that stigma.”