Philadelphia Elementary School has tried for years to teach students the importance of agriculture.

The school’s miniature farm has gradually expanded over the years, first with a greenhouse for vegetables and then eventually two calves, about 20 chickens, two goats, one rabbit and two cats.

“We’re kind of like old McDonald’s farm,” Angela Bright-White, PES teacher, said, laughing.

Each week students are responsible for care of the farm, which includes feeding, water, bedding and ensuring each animal is healthy.

“It varies from day to day just like real agriculture does,” Bright-White said. “Some days you have big messes that you have to clean up and goats that you have to put up and you just have to maintain everything on a daily basis.

“... I’m involved with Tennessee Farm Bureau and Ag in the Classroom, and I grew up on a farm, and I know how important it is for students to know where their food and fiber come from, and even though we’re in a rural area, that doesn’t always mean they know exactly what the work is that has to go into producing what we use every day,” she added. “I think it’s very important that our students know that and that they also know that being involved in agriculture doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a farmer, that there are all kinds of aspects that they can be involved in.”

In the spring, students will plant a garden beside the greenhouse with hopes of growing vegetables that will eventually be sold, Bright-White said. She also anticipates selling the two calves in the spring to help offset the program’s costs.

“We’ll sell vegetables in the spring and summer, and it’s a program that goes all year long,” Bright-White said. “I mean it’s not just through the school year. We have programs in the summertime that we work the students.”

She wants students to know the value of hard work and taking responsibility.

Those messages rang true for seventh-grader Ben Burchfield and eighth-grader Tyler Stallcup, who both love taking care of the animals.

“Just having this place has really helped me a little bit,” Burchfield said. “I mean school (work), I really don’t enjoy mostly but I’m excited to come here and just help these animals and feed them and care for them.”

“I don’t like school work, but I like coming down here in the morning time and just taking care of the animals and making sure they’re all right and going to go put up the goat,” Stallcup added.

Marvin Feezell, PES principal, hopes the miniature farm can help learning in the classroom.

“We also have our middle school science teacher, Ms. (Stephanie) Collis,” Feezell said. “She works on some of the science aspects of agriculture, so there’s 45 minutes that Ms. Bright works on more of the farming aspect of agriculture, and then Ms. Collis does ag science the other 45 minutes and ties into some of the science there. For example, they were hatching chicks in her science room.”

“We have seven chicks that we incubated and hatched from eggs that our chickens laid,” Bright-White added.

Feezell said he believes offering career technical education opportunities in middle school gives students an advantage to explore interests earlier in life.

“Our mission statement says that we will build college and career readiness, and we’ve always done a good job with the academic college part,” Feezell said. “We have career fairs, college fairs, college field trips. We have an ACT program where the kids see the ACT in sixth, seventh and eighth grade. We’ve always done a good job on the academic portion of the college, but we felt like that we really needed to do more with the career aspect. And you’ve heard (Burchfield and Stallcup), the regular schoolwork doesn’t always inspire them, but they get to come down here and make real-life connections to what they’re actually learning. And I guarantee you they’re using stuff from the classroom down here.

“... Instead of kids being put through a rotation of classes, ‘You have to take these,’ because everybody gets the math, science, social studies and reading,” he added. “It’s that special area and enrichment time that the kids get to choose what they want to explore.”