Friday, January 4, 2019

Celebrating the Grand Opening of the Barn and Classroom Building at the Land Lab

December 5 was a memorable day. Not just because of the snow we saw in Isle of Wight County, but because we hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony at the new barn and classroom building at the Land Lab.  I was unfortunately under the weather and on doctor's orders for bed rest.  It was incredibly difficult to not be there, but I'm extremely proud of everyone involved for putting together an outstanding event.
The ceremony took place inside of the barn, complete with stalls of goats and piglets, and even some boxes of rabbits.  The event included remarks from our School Board Chairman, Vicky Hulick, and the Vice-Chairman for the Board of Supervisors, William McCarty.  Gracie Owney, a senior from Smithfield High and a student in the Agriculture program, also spoke to the guests about what the program means to her. Mike Lombardo, our Assistant Superintendent, shared the following on my behalf:
Three years ago the division embarked on an ambitious journey to redesign the CTE program to better meet the needs of our students.  The Agriculture program has been a part of the IWCS curriculum for decades, but we knew it needed to be updated.  In the 2016-2018 school year, we established a working farm (Land Lab) to expand the existing agricultural program. The land lab was constructed on existing division property behind Windsor Elementary School.   We hired a full-time farm manager for the Land Lab.  The farm manager and agriculture teacher collaborate to provide authentic real-world learning in the areas of agricultural business management and mechanization, along with plant, animal, and soil science.  Since opening in September of 2017, the students have transformed the Land Lab from six acres of uncut grass, to four fenced pastures, a vegetable garden, and housing for chickens, rabbits, goats, and, as of yesterday, pigs. Students receive real world experiences through the Land Lab, such as participation in “farm to table” marketing from the sale of farm products to the public and to the division’s culinary arts program.  The lab has welcomed groups of elementary students as teachers introduce science standards in their classes.  The working farm has made agriculture come to life for students throughout the division.  And now we have these two beautiful buildings to further enhance learning opportunities for our students.

The strides we have made with this program, many of our CTE programs, would not have been possible without the support and involvement of several key people and groups. The Isle of Wight County School Board had the courage and foresight to see the need for a redesign our CTE program. The Board of Supervisors listened to our proposal and publicly supported our vision for our schools with 7.9 million dollar investment.  Our Farm Manager, Daniel Judkins, and Agriculture teacher, Jason Brittle, and the leadership at our two high schools, Principal Laura Sullivan from Windsor High and Zachary Haney from Smithfield High.  We emphasize the importance of collaboration with our students.  The success of our new CTE model would not have been possible without this collaboration and I wanted to acknowledge their contributions this morning.

All of the speakers, along with Jason Brittle, Daniel Judkins, Zachary Haney and Laura Sullivan, joined together to cut the blue ribbon, officially opening the barn and classroom building for use.  As guests toured the facilities, they were able to enjoy refreshments provided by the IWCS Culinary Arts students and instructor Kyle Cousins.

This was really a milestone for our CTE program.  We are redesigning our courses to provide students with authentic learning experiences.  In order to meet that goal, we have to include facilities that realistically simulate those work environments.  These new buildings at the Land Lab do just that and continue to support our vision of ensuring students are college, career and life ready.

I encourage you to click on the link below to watch a video of pictures from the event.