KEARNEY — If you think ag education is just about feeding cattle, growing corn and driving tractors, think again.
That’s what Spencer Noble says about agriculture education at Kearney High School.
“We have so many students who don’t have an ag background, but they learn that two out of three people in Nebraska have ag-related jobs,” said Noble, a farm kid from Albion who studied animal science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and now is teaching Kearney students what he’s learned.
Noble is the program’s lead instructor. His KHS colleagues are Breann Zimmer and Sheridan Swotek.
KHS launched its ag education program in 2016. At the time the program had one full-time and one half-time instructor.
Today, KHS has the largest ag education enrollment in Nebraska.
It began with about 150 students, Noble said, and today has as many as 600 students per year.
He attributes the growth in the KHS program to students’ natural interest in discovering what’s new and interesting, even though many of the students taking the courses may have no background in farming or ranching.
Current course titles include intro to agriculture, animal science, plant science, agribusiness, natural resources, veterinary science, large animal management, wildlife management and floriculture.
The KHS faculty of Zimmer, Swotek and Noble teach all of those titles; however, some businesses have helped with instruction prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Those businesses include Pleasanton Meat Processing, Diva’s Floral Shop and Hilltop Pet Clinic.
Ag education courses are an opportunity to see what’s involved in ag-related careers. The program is among the many exploratory offerings at KHS.
“Even if they take these courses, but don’t go into it as a career, at least they looked into it,” Noble said.
Agriculture is Nebraska’s No, 1 industry, so agriculture is involved in two out of every five businesses. That means careers in any phase of agriculture are likely to tap a variety of talents, backgrounds and education.
Noble said there’s an emphasis at KHS for students to become well-rounded and community-minded.
He said the KHS chapter of FFA is an opportunity to develop more agricultural knowledge, test that knowledge in contests and perform community service.
“I really want to instill that we are a program that gives back to the community,” Noble said. He is the lead adviser for FFA. Swotek and Zimmer also are advisers.
The KHS FFA has done highway cleanups and assisted at local farm shows, including Gateway Farm Expo, Cattlemen’s Classic and the Buffalo County Fair.
The FFA chapter at KHS began in 2016, the same year that ag education started. There were 40 FFA members in the beginning, and it’s grown steadily to 90 members. They attend monthly chapter meetings and can compete in FFA contests with other regional chapters. KHS is strong in parliamentary procedure, poultry judging, livestock management, farm business management and livestock judging, Noble said.
He said learning leadership and community service are worthwhile goals.
Noble said KHS’s emphasis on career exploration gives students a boost. As they explore careers, they learn about jobs they might pursue in the future, and they also learn to succeed in every class — English, math, science — because every class has elements that will contribute to their success in lifelong careers.
“We try to make it very career-based. We try to make it real for them,” Noble said about teaching from a career exploration perspective. “If I were in high school and I had so many options I would have taken more exploratory classes just to see what’s out there.”