Rhory Bell (from left), Maiya Clouse, Syx Russell and Mikaela Smith hold some of the bunnies at Arsenal Tech High School. In addition to rabbits, the students also take care of chickens, guinea pigs, tilapia fish and a turtle.
Rhory Bell (from left), Maiya Clouse, Syx Russell and Mikaela Smith hold some of the bunnies at Arsenal Tech High School. In addition to rabbits, the students also take care of chickens, guinea pigs, tilapia fish and a turtle.
INDIANAPOLIS — Students in the FFA chapter at Arsenal Tech High School know what it’s like to get their hands dirty.

A normal day for students in this FFA chapter, Agriculture Environmental Sciences of STAR Academy, can include everything from feeding and taking care of chickens, rabbits, bunnies and tilapia to learning about foods, landscaping and growing plants.

The magnet program, which is in its 20th year, formerly known as Science and Technology of Agriculture and its Resources Academy, has a new name and location.

The name was changed to Agricultural Environmental Sciences of STAR Academy, and the program moved from Emmerich Manual High School to Arsenal Tech.

About 112 students, 85 at the high school and 27 at the middle school, are involved in the program, said Sonya Lord, FFA adviser and agriculture business and science teacher.

Students can take eight classes in three main areas of plant and soil sciences, total animal science and food science.

The program gives students an opportunity for hands-on experience, which is the favorite part of the program for chapter President Syx Russell.

“It is so different learning behind a desk compared to going out and learning firsthand,” Russell said.

Eighth-graders can take classes and receive high school credit, and high school students can take up to nine hours, or three dual credit classes, for college credit.

“Although we moved locations, we continue to grow,” Lord said.

As the program grows more classes will be added, she said.

Areas Of Study

In animal science, students learn about animals, feeding and nutrition. Students take care of many animals, including guinea pigs and a turtle.

When studying plants, students learn about aquaponics, hydroponics, landscaping and horticulture. The program also has have a compost pile, a greenhouse with flowers and raised garden beds where students grow tomatoes, broccoli, squash, zucchini, lettuce, mints and herbs.

Students in food science learn how to grow food, as well as preserving, canning, pickling and more. Showing students how to grow and preserve food is important to Lord.

“Everyone has to eat,” she said. “I teach students that they can produce their own food, and although they don’t have to be involved with the production side, they need to know how to make (food) and prepare it.”

Students seem to understand the importance of what they’re learning, Lord said.

“This is one of those subjects you’re really into or not, but they get why it’s important,” she said.

Lord is one of the people who really is into the subject. She grew up on a farm and has raised animals — cows, hogs and sheep for 46 years.

She was involved with 4-H and FFA, where she was the first female president of her chapter at Triton High School. She continued to be around animals and help raise them as her two sons went through 4-H.

She has been involved with the program for 18 of the 20 years it has been in existence. Students look up to Lord, and it’s not uncommon to hear a student call her “Momma Lord” or say she is like a parent to them.

When asked why she has stayed with the program for the 18 years, Lord simply smiles and points to her students.

“The kids need you,” she said. “I think my kids know I love them.”

The program also is important with showing students what they can do for a career, Lord said.

“I can turn almost every job in to an agricultural job — lawyer, doctor — you name it,” she said.

Broadening Horizons

Through the program, students participate in contests, conventions, career development, leadership events and Supervised Agriculture Experience projects. The projects give students the opportunity to take what they learned in a classroom and then apply it by volunteering or doing a project for a total of 90 hours.

Students also participate in farmers markets. At an upcoming event, Arts on the Green, students will sell bunnies, eggs, flowers and other items at the schoolwide event open to the public from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 3 at Arsenal Tech’s Courtyard.

For some, the program has been a learning experience.

Maiya Clouse, a sophomore, is in her first year of the program and described it as amazing.

“I’ve learned a lot,” she said.

Her favorite things about the program are the people and the animals, she said.

For others, the program has changed them.

Mikaela Smith, vice president of the chapter, said the program has pushed her to step outside her comfort zone.

“Conventions and events push you to talk and meet people,” she said. “From when I joined as a sophomore to now, I’ve become a leader.”

“The program did that,” Lord added.