Sixth-graders at North Hall Middle School huddle together, eager to get their hands dirty.
Students in sixth through eighth grade at the school can now participate in a new agriculture program, led by first-year teacher Morgan Smith. The program includes “connections” classes in agriculture at all three grade levels and a new chapter of the National FFA Organization.
“All of our curriculum is based on agriculture, of course,” Smith said. “I am teaching basic ag science, which is a high school level course, to eighth-graders and one of my seventh-grade classes. The other classes are exploring agriculture, so they get a broad overview of the different areas of ag.”
This week, sixth-grade classes have been preparing raised garden beds on the school property for planting broccoli. Smith said the broccoli should flower before winter, which will “be neat for the students to see.”
In a sixth-grade class Wednesday, some students carried bags of soil, while Smith taught the difference between soil and dirt.
Other students raked the soft, packed soil in one bed while their classmates emptied more soil over the top.
“My five-year plan is to develop a community garden, where we grow and prepare meals and then sell seats at a lunch or something like that,” Smith said. “I know Athens-Clarke County has been doing something like that.”
Smith said the class is very hands-on and doesn’t have much “sitting down and not doing anything.”
“It’s the first time ever that agriculture or FFA have been offered at North Hall Middle School,” Smith said. “And the ag ed program goes hand-in-hand with FFA, which is a chartered organization.”
Smith is well-versed in FFA business. She was president of the FFA chapter at North Hall High School when she was a student.
FFA, previously known as Future Farmers of America, is the largest student-led organization in the world, and the new chapter at North Hall Middle has one of its first events in Covington today.
“It’s Region Rally, and we’re just going to have fun, get together and meet other FFA chapters from different schools,” said Jake Riley, North Hall FFA sentinel and seventh-grader at North Hall Middle.
The school already has 112 students in its FFA chapter and a team of officers, including Riley, reporter Addie Bowen, junior reporter Colby Ellis, treasurer Owen Pitchford, secretary Whitney Chapman, vice president Laurel Frederick and president Jaci Martin.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Martin said. “I’ve been involved with FFA at the high school for a long time, but to have our own now is really cool.”
Smith said the Hall County Farm Bureau and Jaemor Farms helped get the new program off the ground. She added that one of the things she likes best about the new ag program is how it opens students’ minds to the possibility of careers in agriculture.
“Agriculturalists aren’t all on the farm,” Smith said. “And it’s really neat to see kids you wouldn’t think be interested in it — maybe both their parents are doctors at Northeast Georgia Medical — they’re the most excited.”