Jerome High School is responding to burgeoning student interest and expanding its agriculture program.
Come fall, there’ll be additional courses, an additional ag educator and more students filing through the ag education building.
The school will increase the number of ag courses from 11 to 19 and its classes from 24 with two teachers to 36 with three, he said.
The ag program had been bursting at its seams, turning away about 150 students this past year, said Tom Clifton, a 31-year ag instructor who has been at the school for 23 years.
Of the high school’s 970 students, 373 students fill ag class seats year round. The expansion is projected to increase those numbers to 550-600 students, he said.
The Jerome District School Board approved a third instructor and the expansion after the program’s community advisory board encouraged the ag education department to request more capacity and offerings, he said.
The advisory board consists of local industry members, including Jerome Cheese and Glanbia, which recognize the significant role of agriculture and food processing in the region and support the school’s ag program, Clifton said.
“The advisory board and the (school) administration are awesome. This couldn’t have happened without them,” he said.
No new construction will take place. The ag education building will convert its computer lab to a mobile laptop carrier to make way for the third classroom. But there will be structural changes in the program and additional opportunities for students, he said.
The new instructor, Alan Willmore, who is graduating from the University of Idaho in May, and Jerome High School’s other ag instructor, Nicole Lebsack, are both certified to teach science. That will bring upper-level animal science and food science classes to the program and allow students to fulfill their science requirements in the ag program. It will also relieve the school’s science department, which is also bursting at the seams, he said.
Ag students will also be able to get dual college credits from the College of Southern Idaho now that the ag program has increased its science offerings, he said.
The ag program is focused on “pathways” in ag mechanics, plant science, animal science and food science and offers hands-on learning to develop skills applicable to those pathways and real life, Clifton said.
The program is also piloting a dairy foods processing course, with the curriculum developed in partnership with Davisco Foods, which owns Jerome Cheese, and South Dakota State University, he said.
The community advisory board recognizes a huge demand for people with knowledge of dairy foods processing, which is part of its support for expanding the ag program, he said.
Major funding will be needed for a food science lab, and Clifton hopes those supportive area businesses will help the program obtain equipment for a lab, he said.
While the Idaho Legislature approved significant funding for ag education through the Agricultural Education Initiative this session, it came after the Jerome school board approved the expansion, he said.
But the initiative will mean a lot for programs like the one at Jerome, and not just in a monetary sense, he said.
“It shows that people, businesses and citizens of Idaho are really behind vocational agriculture education,” he said.