“Transformative” is how Brian Jackson describes the project that is in the works in his district.
The West Greene School District superintendent can foresee the impact that substantial impending upgrades to the district’s vocational agricultural and STEAM facilities will have on students.
“The idea behind the (vocational agricultural) program is our location, which is very rural. There is a need for industrial skills,” said Jackson, noting the area is influenced by the coal, oil and gas industries and a need for highly trained technical workers. “We’re trying to expand to meet the needs of the local economy.”
The project, which is expected to be bid out for construction this month, carries a price tag in the $2-3 million range, said Jackson.
The district was recently awarded $32,490 in state grants to help chip away at that cost.
The funding, originating from the state’s Ag and Youth Grants Program and reenacted through the passage of the PA Farm Bill last year, will support upgrades to West Greene’s vocational agricultural program.
The district is set to receive $25,000 for facilities upgrades as part of a grant the district will match from its general fund for the capital project.
Karlie Wright, a high school vocational agricultural instructor, said the funding will help to install a series of new learning spaces, including a general agricultural science classroom, a biochemistry lab and a food science kitchen. Additionally, the school’s existing agricultural mechanics shop is slated for an expansion, she said.
Through a separate grant, the district will receive $7,490 to upgrade the fume extraction unit for its agricultural mechanics program.
The funding awarded to West Greene through the Ag and Youth Grants Program was part of a total of $500,000 distributed to 55 projects statewide designed to promote development in agriculture, community leadership, vocational training and peer fellowship.
At West Greene, it’s going to provide a better learning environment for the 50-plus student-members of the school’s chapter of the National FFA Organization (formerly known as Future Farmers of America), as well as other students enrolled in vocational agricultural courses at the school.
“The school district has made an effort to expand the agriculture department. The idea is to make courses career-driven with a focus on employability skills,” said Wright.
Part of the same project, the district is renovating a portion of its campus near Rogersville into a center for STEAM education.
District academic director Eric Gaydos said a focus on STEAM, which stands for science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics, will equip students with transferable skills, soft skills and critical thinking skills that can carry over into other concepts and content outside of STEAM classrooms.
“We want to bring that STEAM education/vo ag education to the forefront,” said Gaydos, noting that the STEAM center will incorporate all learners in the district. “We want this to benefit the community as a whole … and have (students) prepared when they leave West Greene.”
The STEAM center will be highly visible and centrally located on campus, Gaydos said. An entire floor will focus on research and STEAM-related work. New classrooms and maker spaces will be available for the middle school and high school, as well.
“It will hopefully increase interest in sciences for students,” he said.
The million-dollar project is anticipated to be completed and ready for the start of the 2020-21 school year, said Jackson.