Ledyard approves $125,000 in funding for high school agri-science purchases

Ledyard — Wish list items for the high school's agri-science program, including a new pickup truck, hydroponics equipment, a 3-D printer, and two buckets of preserved rats, are one step closer to reality, thanks to extra unallocated funds from the state.

The Board of Education last week approved a request from the agri-science department for $125,654. The money comes from the state Department of Education, which provides funds to the state's 19 agricultural, science and technology education centers, including Ledyard High School, to offset costs not covered by out-of-district tuition.

The money is given to the town — this year's revenue was $810,808, about $145,000 more than budgeted — but it has to be used for items specific to the agri-science program. Devon O'Keefe, instructional leader of the department and animal science teacher, said previous funds from the state have gone toward vehicles, trailers, sheds and other upgrades to existing facilities.

"What we are trying to do is provide our students with more opportunities to get up to speed with the industry so we can provide our students with the same knowledge and experience," she said.

She said the skills they learn on up-to-date equipment at the school can be translated into a career in the field, the military, higher education or even everyday life with vegetable gardens or fish tanks at home.

O'Keefe said each teacher has a wish list of items they want for their classes based on industry research and input from the advisory committee, and the department meets to discuss program needs. They then rank the items and create the purchase orders for approval.

Items in the request include dissection models, both real animals and artificial models, for the veterinary science classes, maps and survey equipment for the natural resources class, a hydroponics bench, and a pickup truck with a crew cab that can transport smaller groups of students for field trips without having to use the department bus.

The request will also fund aquaculture upgrades, including current filtration systems and an outdoor water garden. Aquaculture teacher Matt Smith said he and his students are going to design an aquaponics system in one of the refurbished greenhouses to grow fish and vegetables.

"With the grant, we're able to fund a really nice, industry-grade system, and I'm really excited," he said.

He said he's looking forward to getting the students involved so they can experience the hardships and successes of designing and running their own system.

O'Keefe said each teacher has a different "pride and joy" in the request, but she was especially looking forward to expanding the program's offerings relative to large animal production. The request will fund electrical hookups in the barns as well as a stove and microwave oven, safety equipment and other materials for the agricultural products class.

"They're going to be making ice cream, yogurt, beef jerky, dehydrated foods, making sausage," she said, adding that students will also be learning about food safety and marketing. "The goal is that at the end of the school year, we're going to have a farm to table [dinner] with what the kids have made."

O'Keefe was also excited about the 3-D printer, which can be used by all departments to craft small items relative to each program such as floral design pieces or gifts.

"Everything that we teach the kids, there is a career that goes with it," she said. "Everything that's on that list will be helping kids with career readiness."

a.hutchinson@theday.com

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