‘Ah-ha moments’ happening in county Magnet Schools’ new AgriScience program


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The AgriScience program on the Middlesex County Magnet Schools campus in East Brunswick has expanded, launching a new curriculum in line with the Curriculum for Agricultural Education.

The career major now includes an emphasis on food science and safety, animal science, and landscape design, in addition to the major’s previous focuses on the cultivation of plants and floral design, according to a press release through the Middlesex County Magnet Schools.

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The new emphasis is based on CASE, a national program that looks at the development of food products and the potential to modify products already in the marketplace.

“We are always re-evaluating our career programs and revising and updating them to meet the needs of employers and our community,” Superintendent of Schools Jorge E. Diaz said.

Lee Neamand, director of career and technical education said, “The Middlesex County Magnet Schools are proud of being on the cutting edge of AgriScience curriculum, as well as research and development.”

“We’re excited to be working with CASE to ensure that our students receive an engaging and rigorous academic experience,” he said.

The lesson plans include lectures, activities in the intercurricular FFA program – formerly the Future Farmers of America — which includes leadership training and community service, and engaging in projects of the students’ choice. FFA is a national youth organization that is aimed at preparing students for careers in agriculture.

Classes typically consist of lectures followed by work on students’ projects, with an emphasis on hands-on learning and group activities.

Students are required to have a supervised agriculture experience, which is an experiential, service, and/or work-based learning experience.

According to Kylie Naylor, the AgriScience teacher, students are encouraged to use their creativity and look at entrepreneurial opportunities. A sophomore worked this fall at Von Thun Farms in South Brunswick, helping with the petting zoo and talking to customers about fall decor. She was able to apply the skills and knowledge she gained in the classroom to the agritourism job, Naylor said.

A senior assisted in class with freshmen as they dissected owl pellets and tried to identify what the owl may have hunted. He then continued to clean and preserve the bones from the owl pellets, hoping to create a full skeleton from what was collected, according to Naylor.

“I feel the students have taken to it,” Naylor said of the new curriculum. “You see the ‘ah-ha moments’ when they make the connections.”

Neamand said the transformation of the program is due in large part to Naylor, whose previous experience includes a number of jobs in the agriculture industry, such as in hydroponics, working on preparing plants for shipping by the Burpee seed and plant company, and a job growing cranberries in South Jersey.

The program has moved temporarily from its greenhouse classroom outside the main East Brunswick building into a laboratory space while the greenhouse classroom is renovated using a $300,000 federal grant obtained through the efforts of Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ).

The Middlesex County Magnet Schools, formerly the Middlesex County Vocational and Technical Schools, the first full-time county vocational school district in the nation, has campuses in East Brunswick, Edison, Perth Amboy, Piscataway and Woodbridge, offering 33 career majors. For more information, visit http://www.mcmsnj.net

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