Rural school’s approach is down to earth

Agricultural concepts will illustrate world-class curriculum

Gunner Parker, Seth Anderson, Makayla Dame and Sabrina Cooksey react to a math probability experiment with their classmates Feb. 6 at Cherry Valley Elementary School.

At Cherry Valley Elementary, the Douglas County School District’s world-class curriculum is going country.

The school’s teachers will use agricultural practices as the basis for teaching the concepts of a 21st-century education.

District leaders urged all schools to consider their unique qualities and use those to help students learn the skills, aimed at preparing them for a global marketplace. That means teaching students concepts to keep pace with a rapidly changing world.

“The discussion was, what do we do to really put us on the map,” Principal Mark Harrell said. “And I posed the question, ‘What if we were an agricultural elementary school?’

“As teachers, it’s good practice to hook new learning onto something kids already know.”

And most Cherry Valley kids know agriculture, either through direct experience or from their neighbors.

Herrell asked parent Kristen Welch, previously the agriculture teacher at Douglas County High School, to act as project coordinator.

The world-class curriculum is based on the Common Core Standards, a set of U.S. educational criteria introduced in 2010 to improve the quality of American education. DCSD’s curriculum is designed to surpass those standards.

Cherry Valley plans to literally bring the education concepts to life with livestock. They’re starting with chickens, and recently ordered a flock. But the education began well in advance with students researching chicken varieties, debating the merits of each and choosing the breed that best suited the school’s climate and geography.

They’ll use science and math skills to help build the chicken coop and plan the feeding program, collaboration and critical thinking to determine the feasibility of the production and sale of eggs, and perhaps later, technology, communication and creativity in a marketing program.

Given their approach, Harrell and Welch believe the process will feel natural.

“They know some of this already,” Welch said, “so this is their time to shine.”

“It’s really about project-based learning,” Harrell said, “projects that are pertinent, purposeful and authentic.”

The program is just getting under way, but Harrell envisions it growing in every aspect.

“My vision is that someday we auction a steer at the Cherry Valley Roundup,” he said.

The Roundup is Cherry Valley’s annual spring fundraiser.

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