|SEPTEMBER 2008 --
A new state law ensures high school students better access to 19 programs that teach aquaculture, animal and plant science, agricultural mechanics, agribusiness, food science, biotechnology and the environment.
The new law changed the name of the Vocational Agriculture program to Agricultural Science and Technology Education, which one educator said would address the erroneous perception that the program was only about cows.
Although the state requires school districts that do not offer vocational agriculture training to allow their students to attend programs at other schools, the new law ensures the sending districts won’t reduce the number of students they send.
“The name change is something we worked for for a long time,” said Robert Gambino of New Milford, who was a plant science teacher at Housatonic Valley Regional High School in Falls Village for 33 years.
“I would go to the home of an eighth-grade student and tell the mother her son was interested in plant science, but when she heard it was a vo-ag program, she said no,” Gambino said.
But when teachers started emphasizing the program’s science and technology, he said there was less resistance.
Gov. Jodi M. Rell signed House Bill 5869, An Act Concerning Agricultural Science and Technology Education, in a ceremony Saturday at Trumbull Agriscience School.
The vo-ag program is one of seven state-subsidized career and technical education programs. Others are business and finance technology, medical careers, and family and consumer sciences. They are among the choice programs the state offers public school students.
“Basically, they are state-subsidized regional facilities that provide a specialized curriculum in agriscience,” Thomas Murphy, state education department spokesman, said Tuesday. “They are embedded in all-purpose high schools and the state subsidizes the tuition the sending school district must pay for their student.”
About 3,000 students in the state now participate in the programs.
“The State Department of Education believes that having options for students is important,” said Greg Kane, who oversees the program. “A lot of students can benefit from these programs.”
Kane said the new law requires the sending school districts to maintain the number of students they send to the program, if interest exists. He said because schools are struggling financially, some have cut back on the number of students they send.
The program, which prepares students for entry-level employment or higher education, incorporates technologies, rigorous academics, current labor market information and career decision-making skills, Students must also take part in a supervised work experience related to their career interest.
Gambino said the program, started in the early part of the last century, has new relevance in today’s world.
“I think as we look into the future, this country is going to move towards more self-reliance, he said. “This is a quintessential education program. It’s community based, it’s hands on, and it lets the student stay in a school setting to learn things like calculus and take part in sports.
“It’s a model that has been tried and emulated throughout the country.”