The agriculture classroom walls at Half Moon Bay High School are covered with Future Farmers of America awards from past years. Big blue “FFA” letters hang above a bulletin board that reads, “Inspire and grow.”
At one meeting in December, a wheelbarrow was stationed in the back of the class and wreaths were spread out on the tables.
It’s in this classroom that high school students take a different science pathway to, ideally, prepare them for a career in agriculture.
But the 75-year-old agriculture and natural resource program at Half Moon Bay High School has struggled to retain teachers in the past decade. That has hurt enrollment, administrators say. In response, the staff and program’s boosters have created a five-year strategic plan to keep the program sustainable and relevant.
“We’re trying to get this program back on its feet,” first-year agriculture department head Hannah Carney said.
The program has seen steady enrollment throughout the past four years, but there was a notable dip when it went from 148 students in June to 117 in October.
Diane Centoni, the school district’s career technical education coordinator, linked the drop to a teacher leaving. She said students were unsure about the program’s future, but she’s confident more students will enroll next year.
“The program gets them to see how broad-ranged agriculture careers are,” Centoni said.
The high school’s program offers four classes that students can take instead of the traditional science courses. These courses include introduction to agriscience, biology and sustainable agriculture, chemistry and agriscience, and a new capstone project.
The five-year strategic plan details intentions to connect students with paid or unpaid agriculture internships, creating a second pathway that may include classes such as ornamental horticulture and advanced floral design. Centoni said that could take another two years.
“When kids are young, you want them to have as many opportunities to try different things and have a choice in what their career is,” she said. “In our introductory class, we give them ideas of all these opportunities out there so they can better decide what direction to go in.”
Other goals include expanding the agriculture program to Cunha Intermediate School, hiring more teachers, providing support for teacher housing and continuing to refurbish greenhouses. Centoni said there is some grant money available.
The students have already started the process of refurbishing greenhouses. What were once worn-down buildings with wind-blown holes in the sides have new panels and a concrete floor. Recent storms knocked a few panels loose, Carney said, they’re working to get those put back in place.
In her first year teaching, Carney hopes to show the students how to apply what they are learning in class in the greenhouses, once the irrigation and other necessary features are installed.
“In the first year we’ve already seen improvement,” Carney said. “... We’re still in process.”
For now, they work with what they have been learning in the classroom and getting outside whenever possible.
“We want to show students (agriculture) is a viable option,” Carney said. “It’s unbelievable how much fun they have.”