Roncalli Introduces Aberdeen’s Very First Ag Program
For decades, Brown County has been home to more corn stalks than people, and has even been referred to as the number one Ag county in South Dakota. Despite this, no area schools have stepped up to provide students with the agricultural skills needed to navigate the fields. Until now, that is. Starting this fall, the Aberdeen Catholic School System will sow the seeds leading to a fresh crop of bright minds with the introduction of the very first Ag program in the community.
The idea for an Ag program stems from the mind of Ed Mitzel, principal of Roncalli junior and senior high. During his time in Bon Homme, which had a lot of strong agriculture programs, he saw the benefits and opportunities students could gain from both the classes offered and the inclusion of an FFA chapter.
When Ed started contemplating the idea around a year ago, he asked students in the hallway to see if there was any interest in an Ag program. Later, a meeting was held, and a considerable turnout showed up to express their enthusiasm. “There’s been a very positive reaction to the implementation of this program, and we’ve received a lot of support,” Ed said.
For eighth grade students, an Intro to Ag class will be required to provide a basis for the various fields the Ag classes will cover. For high schoolers, all Ag classes will be electives. Currently, there are five or six classes scheduled, including Ag Engineering, Ag Foods, Natural Resources, Biotechnology, and Ag Animal Science. Mr. Bradley Cihak, who was formerly teaching Ag in Gettysburg, will teach all of these classes in addition to supervising Roncalli’s new FFA chapter.
According to Mr. Cihak, the classes will be mostly science based. “Students will use applied science and math to balance feed rations, figure out how much pesticide or herbicide to put on crops to keep them safe and healthy, and more,” he explained. “There’s also computer work involved. It’s a very broad field.”
Ed has nothing but high hopes for the future of this program. The program will be CDE certified, which means students can use the experience they gain at FFA events for college applications and scholarships. “I saw wonderful things with it in the last school district I was at. It provides wonderful opportunities for the students to take new classes that will potentially lead to a career.”
Along with the various opportunities the program will provide for students, Mr. Cihak is hopeful that the implementation of an Ag program will lead to a deeper appreciation and understanding of agriculture as a whole. “I want them to truly see what it all encompasses. It’s a lot more than just the farmer out planting in the field. It’s also the processing, getting the food to the grocery store, all the technology and science that goes into it, as well as designing a program to make sure you’re utilizing crops and everything efficiently. I want them to understand where their food is coming from and take something from it.” // – Becca Simon