Feature image: Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences homepage
You could say I’m not your “typical” agriculture student that you will meet in your classes or in the real world. I didn’t grow up on a farm, neither of my parents were involved in the agriculture industry, I wasn’t in FFA or 4-H, and I was just completely clueless about what agriculture was until high school.
How did a girl from the southwest side of Chicago living on a property 30ft by 120ft end up in agriculture?
Well, I grew up in a Chicago neighborhood, Mount Greenwood, on the southwest side of the city. With houses and traffic everywhere it isn’t the best place to have a farm or a bunch of livestock and other farm animals. Then one Chicago Public High School decided to break that boundary. This school is the Chicago High School for Agricultural Science, CHSAS for short.
When I was younger my parents would always take us up to the farm to see the animals, pick pumpkins, go on hayrides, etc. I was always so excited about it and thought how fun it would be to go to school that was farm based.
Once I came to the point of where I wanted to go to high school I really had only two options, one of the 5 private schools in the area or the CHSAS, and the decision became easy from there. CHSAS was different than any other public school in Chicago. They had a selective “lottery system” when it came to who would be accepted. The school is composed of around 600 students, which is tiny for a Chicago Public School.
On the first day of classes I was so excited to start. We had our normal classes: math, science, history, foreign language, AP classes, etc. But when I had my introduction to agriculture class, this is when I was first exposed to what agriculture was and the importance of it. This is where we were informed about our involvement and expectations in FFA, SAE, agriculture pathways, etc.
As a freshman there isn’t too much exposure to agriculture, it all doesn’t start until you hit your sophomore year when you explore the different agriculture classes they have known as pathways. Throughout your entire sophomore year you would spend roughly 4 to 6 weeks in all 6 pathways and at the end of the year you would rank your choices 1 – 6. Based on that and your grades you will be placed as your number one or as close to your number one choice as possible.
And I’m sure you’re wondering what these pathways are and what they consist of, well here they are:
This is the pathway that I decided to specialize in for my junior and senior of high school. I had the opportunity to work hands on with the animals that we had in our barn: chickens, cattle, snakes, barn dogs/cats, horses, hogs, sheep, goats, and ground hogs. Until my senior year we had a certified veterinarian, Dr. Joni White, as our teacher. We were able to watch her and get hands on experience when it came to taking care of the animals. After Dr. White had left CHSAS we gained a new professional, Maggie Kendall who had specialized in horses.
When we weren’t working in the barn or with the animals we still had classroom time. Within the classroom we covered the material of: animal management and care, animal systems, animal nutrition, and behavior and reproduction.
In this pathway students had hands on experience with plants within the greenhouse along with classroom material. Within the greenhouse students would be responsible for their own table and maintain it with the plants of their choice for whatever the subject was for that amount of time. The students would care for them and take care of any issues that would arise during the growing process. They would also help take care of the 40 acres of farm land in the back of the school. During my time at the school the teacher for this class was Andrea Biney. Now the new instructor is Brittney Kee.
Within the pathway the students walk out with the knowledge of: basic uses of plants and flowers, plant identification, soils and other growing media, greenhouse structures, landscaping and floral designing.
How awesome would it be to go to school every day and cook? That is part of what the students in this pathway did. Their classroom was connected to a full on operational kitchen with all the supplies that would be in a professional kitchen. The instructor behind teaching all of this is, Wende Dallain.
Besides cooking, these students learned: the science and safety of the food industry, covers the processing of food from its beginning until it reaches the table and all of the steps between, product development and preservation.
Ag Mech Tech
Within this pathway students would work hands on in a workshop with tools and supplies that would be used in a professional work room. Each year of students would work on different hands on projects. In your sophomore year while you were exploring your pathways you would learn how to draw, take measurements, and make blue prints. During your junior year you would get the experience of using the tools to make items out of wood and steel. Once you were at your senior year, you would hit the more complex items such as working on engines. Dr. Robert Bush retired the year that I graduated, now the school has a new instructor, James Slee.
When it came to in the classroom the students within this pathway learn: they focus on the skills and knowledge of work place skills and safety, the use of these skills in construction in the agriculture industry, the use of hand tools, power tools, basic use and repair of small engines and basic car maintenance.
The finance pathway had a large job to do for the school. We had a farm stand that was open after school hours to sell the products contributed by the pathways, and the students in the finance pathway would run the store. Within the store they would sell flowers, eggs, baked/cooked goods, etc. William Collins is the instructor for this pathway.
When they were not working on the farm stand students would be in class leaning: Intro to ag economics, cover the connection between ag businesses and financial institutions, take a look at the US economy, the world market, and government programs.
This pathway came about after I had graduated and is fairly new to the school. The instructor for this course is JaMonica Marion. In this pathway students will cover the basics in teaching and will handle the Ag Tourism program.
Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences was approved by the Chicago Board of Education in July 1984, and it opened its doors in September 1985. The reasoning behind the school was to help save the future of agricultural education. The school hopes to spread the message to other major cities to start their own agricultural based school and curriculum.
For me personally choosing to go to CHSAS was one of the best decisions I could have made and it is a school that I suggest a lot more high school students should take advantage of. This experience is why I’m an Agribusiness major and you should be an Aggie too.
“CHSAS is unique in that we provide agricultural education for ALL of our students and we do it in an area of Illinois where agricultural education programs are lacking. Obviously, I’m happy when students leave here to pursue a career in agriculture, but even if they don’t, I know they’re leaving CHSAS as educated consumers.”
– William Hook, Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences Principal
If you would like to read more about the school and its history you can always check out their homepage.
My name is Kaitlin Hoinacki and I’m a senior at Western Illinois University. I’m currently studying agribusiness with minors in political science, communication, and german. I grew up on the southwest side of Chicago in the neighborhood of Mount Greenwood. I will be graduating in December 2017. Now that my time at WIU is almost over, I’m ready to pursue my dream with working in agriculture industry.