Mt. Pleasant Community High School will start advertising to hire an agriculture education teacher for the 2019-2020 school year after the agriculture education task force raised $145,000 for the program since October. Their total fundraising goal is $300,000 for a three-year trial period.
During a school board meeting on Monday, Nov. 12, board and agriculture education task force member Chuck Andrew said he hopes to have $180,000 raised — enough to cover a teacher’s salary for three years — by the December board meeting.
The rest of the fundraising should be attainable in two years and will cover the cost of the curriculum and other materials for the program, Andrew said. Once an agriculture education program is established and at least six students have enrolled, Mt. Pleasant can launch a Future Farmers of America chapter.
The school district is adding the curriculum to the high school at the request of students who want to go into agricultural-related jobs after graduation or as their chosen field of study in college.
Task force member Mary Elgar said that for the past couple of years, students enrolled in the civic engagement and leadership class offered at the high school requested the school board consider adding the agriculture education class. The presentation was a part of their civic engagement and leadership class.
“We’re finding as our students are going to Iowa State (to study agriculture) and competing with kids with four years of agriculture education and FFA (in high school), it’s hard to compete against all that body of knowledge,” Elgar said.
School board and task force member Jennifer Crull said the district doesn’t have new money to put toward exploring a new program right now. However, once the program is evaluated and meets expectations of learning outcomes and has high student enrollment, there will be district money available.
“The more students we serve, the more money it means for the district,” Crull said, adding that they’re hoping to have students from other districts open-enroll for the Mt. Pleasant agriculture education program.
Elgar added that they are not looking to poach students from other schools full-time. Mt. Pleasant just wants to give them an opportunity to explore agriculture education in high school.
“It’s hard to cut a program that’s successful,” Andrew said.
The task force has been in what member Mary Elgar called the “silent phase” of fundraising — receiving early pledges from businesses and organizations such as Beck’s Hybrids, Two Rivers Bank & Trust, Henry County Farm Bureau, and the Henry County Cattlemen. The task force will start a public fundraising campaign in the new year, task force member Mary Elgar said.
Crull said she believes the support has been phenomenal so far.
“We started with large businesses, but it’s going to be individuals that push us over the limit,” task force member Derek Mullin said.
While the high school had a Future Farmers of America program in the 1950s, it was cut during the farm crisis of the 1980s when parents were encouraging their children not to stay in farming, Elgar said.
The winds are changing, however. In a statement, the task force said they were told by Future Farmers of America officials that Mt. Pleasant is the only county seat town in their population range that doesn’t offer an agriculture education program.
School districts in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City have either started or are currently offering agriculture education. School districts in Clear Lake and Johnson are currently doing community-based fundraising to offer agriculture classes like Mt. Pleasant.
“This is definitely not your father’s FFA,” Crull said.
The agriculture task force is holding a fundraiser for the program at the Henry County Fair Fall Brawl Demo Derby on Saturday Nov. 17 from 1 to 4 p.m. Shottenkirk partnered with Dodge to bring a few trucks out to the derby for people to test drive. For every test drive, $20 will be donated to the agriculture education program.
Andrew said Shottenkirk hopes to give the district a check for $5,000 by the end of the night.
The task force is also selling T-shirts and sweatshirts to support their fundraising efforts. The apparel reads “FFA I Can. We Will. Bring it back! To Mt. Pleasant Schools.”
Apparel can be ordered at the Farm Bureau office.
For more information about the agriculture education program or to donate, visit the Henry County Iowa Ag Education Facebook page.