Rolesville Middle students plan gardens in hands-on biotechnology class

sbarr@newsobserver.comApril 21, 2013 

— Visitors to Rolesville Middle School may need to take a step outside if they’re in search of the school’s seventh-grade biotechnology class this spring.

That’s where they’ll find teacher Scott Robison and his students tending their new raised garden beds when they’re not busy learning in their classroom.

The middle school, which opened last July, is the first middle school in Wake County to offer biotechnology classes and the first to have a chapter of the National FFA Organization, a group sometimes known by its original name, Future Farmers of America.

FFA groups usually are found at the high school level, but the school’s biotechnology offerings for sixth- and seventh-graders made it eligible to start a middle school chapter. To be part of FFA, the kids must be part of the biotechnology program.

Earlier this month, on a narrow strip of land behind the school, the seventh-graders began preparations for their gardens, where they’ll grow radishes, butterbeans and pole beans.

Robison tasked six small groups with staking out the spot for a garden. With measuring tape, hammers, rolls of twine and other tools, each group found a space for a 4-foot-by-6-foot bed at least 18 inches from the wall and then smoothed its dirt surface.

“It’s fun because we get to use rakes,” said Azri Hakim.

“Yeah, we get to hammer stuff,” chimed in Dawson Morrison.

Robison said working on the gardens is a chance to get the students outside and engaged in hands-on activities, a big part of the biotechnology classes. In their classes, the students are exposed to subjects such as science, technology and math as they put their critical thinking and problem-solving skills to work on projects that often deal with agricultural, medicine and related fields.

“Hopefully kids will enjoy it, see the value in it, and want to continue,” Robison said.

As Kamri Sabathe, Montrell Roper and Camryn Jamison worked on putting their own plot together farther down the row, they said they’re enjoying working on the garden.

“I think it’s a good way to interact with the environment,” Camryn said.

Kamri and Montrell said they both took the elective biotechnology class because they’re interested in medical careers.

More than farming with FFA

Camryn, who also is a member of the school’s nearly 50-member FFA chapter, said the organization is “cool” because it features all kinds of agricultural activities, from speech competitions to livestock judging.

Robison advises the chapter and said the students who are part of the club have taken to heart the message that FFA isn’t just for students looking to be farmers; it’s for anyone interested in a career in agriculture. It’s a field that includes science, business and technology jobs, and the lessons students learn can be applied in just about any area.

“There’s so much more than farming,” Robison said. At the same time though, FFA is a good chance to raise awareness among students about where their food comes from, and that someone has to grow it, he added.

That’s a lesson the raised garden beds also will highlight for students. When the seventh-graders are on break later this year, a group of sixth-grade biotechnology students will tend to the garden beds, which are funded by a $1,500 grant from the AgCarolina Farm Credit Fund.

Other hands-on projects are in the works.

The school also has a grant to raise 25 laying chickens, whose eggs will be used in the Backpack Buddies program, which provides food to children in need, and similar programs. The students will take care of the chickens, collect the eggs and design workshops about backyard farming.

“They’ll do it all,” Robison said.

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