Farm School: High Schoolers tending to animals, crops on Chicago South Side

CHICAGO (WLS) -- You wouldn't think that there's a farm in the middle of the city of Chicago, but there is, and it's attached to the Chicago High School of Agricultural Sciences.

"We're a full high school in the sense that all the students take typical courses in math, English, science, social studies, art and physical education," Assistant Principal Sheila Fowler said. "Beyond the typical high school classes, we have agricultural classes that serve as our electives."

The school opened in 1985 to educate students specifically in the field of agriculture.

Now, for the first time, incoming freshmen are getting a sneak peek at what they should expect before starting school September 3.

"We get time to learn the school and to learn our teachers before we get jumbled in with the sophomores, juniors and seniors. It's like a high school boot camp," incoming freshman Jamal Slaughter said.

Students like Slaughter are attending "Freshman Connection." The four-day process gets students used to opening their lockers, the transition between classes and gives an introduction to agricultural education.

"You learn stuff you never thought you'd want to learn," incoming Freshman Journey Menendez added. "Like 'Agriculture, really? Do I really want to plant and working on the farm?' But once you come to school you're going to have a whole different mindset about that."

The school has six different "pathways" students can take. All of them related to agricultural studies: Agricultural Finance and Economics, Agricultural Mechanics and Technology, Animal Science, Food Science and Technology, Horticulture and Biotechnology in Agriculture.

"The animals, it's fun to just watch them. Everybody else says they're stinky but no, I just like to be with them, because each animal has a different personality," Slaughter said.

The school currently has beef cattle, one dairy cow, pigs, alpacas, turkeys, chickens and goats. And just beyond the pens are acres of land for the produce students grow.

"We grow many different things each season, incoming Freshman Abby Wasserman said. "So this year we have cucumbers, pumpkins, watermelon, melons, peppers, corn."

"They care about what they grow here, it's not like we grow it to sell it," Slaughter added. "They show us how to tend to it as if we were growing it in our own backyard."

Fowler said students at the school can develop "a strong work ethic and sense of purpose" with the help of the agricultural program that will stick with them for the rest of their lives.
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