OKEECHOBEE, Fla. — Okeechobee County is known for farmers, ranchers and a nationally-recognized cattle industry, and this is trickling down to the classroom.
Three years ago Okeechobee County schools became the first school district in South Florida to offer an agriculture program at the elementary education level. The program combines responsibility and sustainability.
“If they’re going to be involved in agriculture, they need to know everything there is to know about agriculture,” said Leslie Lundy, director of grants and special programs for Okeechobee County Schools.
Every day, Everglades Elementary School students are scheduled to feed calves, collect chicken eggs and pick ripe vegetables. But there’s also rabbits to tend to, chicken coops to clean and plenty of raking and composting. It’s all part of Everglades’ Ag Program, a requirement for the school’s approximately 770 students.
“It’s not your average everyday 'sit down in the classroom pencil and paper work,'" said Anna Gilliland, Everglades Elementary paraprofessional aid.
Faculty and staff call the program both science and self-sustaining nutrition at work. But the program also requires students to sell livestock at the County Fair, ensuring no cost to the district.
“That funds the next year’s project,” added Lundy.
Everglades Elementary’s Ag Program is so popular it even inspired two neighboring districts to develop their own. Students have also published their own fully illustrated book, “If You Give A School An Ag Teacher”.