NEW CASTLE, Pa. (Farm and Dairy) – The students may be gone, but the agricultural education teachers are still going to school.
Schools in Pennsylvania and Ohio closed in mid-March, right as things were heating up in the greenhouse. That left the teachers to care for thousands of dollars in plants that classrooms of students would be tending to throughout the week, normally.
It also left teachers to figure out how to hold their annual spring plant sales in the time of the novel coronavirus.
Jodie Hoover created an online store through the Square credit card program. Hoover is the agricultural education teacher at Fort Cherry High School, in McDonald, Pennsylvania.
Customers can buy online and choose a pick-up time. Parking spaces will be marked, and their plant orders will be packed and ready for pick-up.
“I’ve learned a lot through my 20 years of teaching, but I never thought I would be designing a website for pick-up,” she said.
Hoover has been going four days a week to take care of the greenhouse since school was excused, March 13. The school’s custodial and maintenance staff offered to help out with watering on the other days.
“It does break my heart, because the students really enjoy the greenhouse and look forward to it each year,” she said. “I also have a lot of alumni and community members that come to the greenhouse each year. I enjoy having this time to visit with them.”
Local business steps up
Randy Harrold, agricultural education teacher for Laurel High School, in New Castle, Pennsylvania, said they had $3,500 invested just in plants — a mix of perennials, annual bedding plants, vegetables and succulents. That doesn’t include pots and soil.
His students had just started tomato and pepper plants in trays. It was time to transplant them into six-packs for sale when the schools closed. That job was left to Harrold and an instructional aide to do the work that usually 16 or 18 students would be during class.
They’ve also been coming into the school regularly to water and care for the plants.
The New Castle Agway has in the past bought remnants for the spring plant sale. Harrold said he reached out to see if the company would be interested in any of their plants this year.
The Agway bought all their plants and will sell them at their store.
“Someone in good faith always steps up to the plate,” he said. “I’m extremely grateful for New Castle Agway. To think that the FFA account would be out $4,000 and it’s truly nobody’s fault. For them to step in, that’s a big step to take to help the Laurel FFA out.”
Doing what they can
Not that a pandemic ever comes at a good time, but the timing of school closures put agricultural education teachers in a bind.
“If there was a time for this to happen, this wasn’t it. We’re out in the ag shop, welding, working on engines. We’re in the greenhouse,” Harrold said.
Pam McKinney, the junior high agricultural education teacher for Georgetown Exempted Village Schools, in Georgetown, Ohio, had just put chicken eggs in an incubator for her classes when schools closed. The incubator then found a new home on her kitchen counter.
“I’ve been doing a lot of videos for my kids … I posted videos of eggs hatching,” McKinney said. “I have a chicken coop, so I walked them through that.”
For an upcoming lesson on root systems, McKinney plans to send her students outside to pull some plants out of the ground to check them out in person.
“It’s a good thing they’re great with technology. They’re willing to take pictures to send to me,” she said. “We do what we can do.”
McKinney and Jamie Loudon, high school agricultural education teacher at Georgetown, are spending three or four hours each morning at the school’s greenhouses, taking care of plants. They still plan to sell plants from the greenhouse while being mindful of social distancing recommendations.
They invested between $5,000 and $6,000 into the greenhouse this year. It’s not a big fundraiser, but they try to make back their money and “we try to sell a good product to our customers,” Loudon said.