“Planting the Seeds”: Duplin Co. creates path for STEM agriculture education

KENANSVILLE, N.C. (WNCT)–Creating a pathway for STEM agriculture education from Pre-K to high school and beyond is the goal of Duplin County Schools, which has developed a comprehensive program spanning all grade levels.

WNCT’S Elizabeth Tew took a closer look at how it works and how it’s influencing the future of agriculture in Duplin County in a special report, “Planting the Seeds.”

“When I was little my grandma told me when you get messy you’re having fun,” 4th grader Sara Matranga said.

STEM education in Duplin County Schools starts in Pre-K.

“They’re 100 percent responsible for teaching themselves,” said Karrie Jarman, a 4th-grade math and science teacher. “I’m here just to guide them and facilitate them on the right answers.”

The education builds upon itself each grade level.

“It’s way better than doing something from the textbook or learning vocabulary because they’re actually doing it hands-on and they’re excited about it,” Jarman said.

There are seven Mission Labs throughout the county’s elementary schools, and in the classrooms, grant money transformed into an education in STEM agriculture.

Students in Robin Mewborn’s class follow the path from farm to table.

“It’s been interesting to see especially the boys find interest in school but also the girls who enjoy going over there and playing with tractors,” Mewborn said.

Students plant spring and fall vegetables just outside of their classroom.

“It’s really fun watering them, planting them and feeding them,” said first-grader Joecie Elliott.

The school system just completed a project to place STEM Academies in all eight middle schools, in addition to its Mission Labs and high school CTE classes. That makes it the first in the East to create a pathway to agriculture education that begins with the young students and continues until they graduate. It’s part of a philosophy to prepare students to fulfill their career and college dreams.

The newest STEM academy is at Beulaville Middle School, with 13 stations ranging from sustainable agriculture to forensic science. It was first introduced in 2013. It’s the middle step in this pathway for students like Ty Jenkins, who is now in an honors robotics class at East Duplin High.

“We start off small with just basic computer things,” Jenkins said. “I started off with the CADD technology and how you build rooms and now I’m at programming robots and telling them what I want them to do.”

Jenkins says the introduction to STEM in middle school ignited his interest in technology.

“For me, this was just a path that I’ve always gone through and I love it,” he said. “It’s really fun, hands-on learning.”

The focus on agriculture is important for the county whose economy depends on it.

“I grew up on a family farm and I just want to keep it going,” 9th-grader Taylor Dail said.

Dail and her classmates are using leftover coffee and tea grounds from local restaurants to create a sustainable soil.

“We’ll put it in this bucket right here so it doesn’t take heat,” 11th-grader James Kennedy said. “After that, we’ll take it from here and put it on the mat. Then we’ll take it and spread it out as evenly as we can.”

That mixture is combined with earthworm waste to create a healthy soil.

“They benefit the most from making the mistakes because we make mistakes and they learn from them,” Joseph Murray, their teacher, said.

The local community funds much of these projects and reaps the benefits.  Stephen Williamson’s family’s been in farming for over 100 years.

“It’s going to benefit the farmers in the way that there are people coming back from school or graduating from high school who are ready to go to work because they’ve had some exposure and know more about what’s going on,” he said.

Over the last six years, Duplin County Schools has received over $2 million in grants and donations to continue its CTE and STEM classes. Several additional grants have been submitted and DCS is awaiting the outcome.

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