The following is an open letter to Randolph County Superintendent of Schools Terry George.
Dear Mr. George:
I am writing in regards to the article in The Inter-Mountain, printed mid-June, discussing the potential cancellation of the Vocational Science Program at the Harman School. I hope that something has been done to move toward posting a job opening for a new vocational-agriculture teacher at this school.
Right now, the field of agriculture has some of the greatest momentum it has had in decades. The desire for locally produced food is the hottest trend, not to mention Harman is a very rural community with a high concentration of jobs necessitating the types of skills that are taught in the vocational science program.
In an article, titled "Farm Boom Sows Jobs Bounty," published in a February 2013 issue of U.S. News, the authors wrote, "Ag students today generally are faring better than their peers in securing jobs. A January 2012 report on education and the workforce found 7 percent of recent U.S. bachelor's-degree recipients in agriculture and natural resources were unemployed, the third-lowest rate of 15 major degree programs, behind only health and education. The report, based on 2009 and 2010 U.S. Census data, found an overall jobless rate for recent graduates of 8.9 percent."
Also noted in the article, "students say the strong job market is allowing them to be flexible about career decisions." Agriculture is a growing field and West Virginia children should be provided with tools necessary to participate.
It is apparent that the students at the Harman School wish to keep this program as well. The number of students that spoke out during the meeting in June was impressive, astounding and discouraging. It is impressive that these students felt strongly enough about the subject to speak out, astounding this is a consideration in an area where these skills are so important, and discouraging because this is going in the opposite direction of the rest of the state and our nation.
In the past two years, four West Virginia public schools created new agricultural education programs, two schools added a second teacher, and, just down the road in Tucker County, the high school revived an almost nonexistent program to a very active one, creating momentum by receiving multiple grants enabling them to build a greenhouse and high tunnel and funding to allow the agricultural science teacher to work through the summer.
In addition, with the help of the growing markets in the area and the marketability of local foods, Tucker County High School students have erected their own greenhouses and started gardens allowing them to learn first-hand how to build a successful enterprise.
A survey, conducted by Downstream Strategies in 2012, found that West Virginia farmers are not reaching the demand of fruits and vegetables in the state. If 75 percent of the demand of fresh fruits and vegetables were obtained from West Virginia growers, $26.8 million of revenue would return to our local communities. If West Virginia farmers supplied 100 percent of the demand, over $35 million of revenue would stay in West Virginia. These numbers are hard to ignore in a state ranked 43rd, based on 2009 poverty rates.
Increasing the availability of fresh goods, coupled with increased education of school cooks and parents on how to use these ingredients, will result in more nutrient-rich consumption and a healthier state. West Virginia is ranked 44th in the nation for prevalence of childhood obesity and the number of obese residents in Randolph County has increased by 5 percent between 2007 and 2009. Vocational agriculture programs also include activities that get students out of the chair and physically doing something. This will contribute to healthier lifestyles at a young age which promotes healthier adults.
Sacrifices were made by the vocational agriculture teachers in Randolph County in 2012 to prevent the cancellation of these programs in three different county schools. Within one year, the board of education in Randolph County seems to be making a closed-door decision to eliminate the same program school employees recently made forfeits in order to maintain.
Please listen to the students, community members and state and national trends before eliminating the vocational agriculture program at the Harman School. Skills taught in these classes are some of the most important in order to provide communal sustainability and enable students to remain on their native lands.
It is not too late to hire someone for the 2013-2014 year.
Potomac Highlands Food and Farm Initiative