Opinion: Drawing Lines There are better uses for ag building funds

Stanton Theater at King City High School | Public domain image

OPINION |

By Nathaniel Smith

It should be no surprise that the ag industry holds large influence over much of the Salinas Valley. One place where this is clearly seen is within our school systems.

With high hopes that students in the valley will someday enter the agricultural workforce, large corporations based in the valley have sought to provide funding for high school ag departments.  The latest example, and one that is raising significant questions, is in King City. The school district in King City is proposing to build a new ag campus next to the high school.

King City High School is ranked third in the state for its Future Farmers of America program, so it goes without saying that the program gets a lot of attention from the school. But not everyone is in favor of the new ag buildings.

Eric Watson, an incoming senior, has only taken one ag class during his high school experience, and he said he believes the agriculture program is beneficial for students who seek that line of work in the future. But he believes the money spent for the new ag buildings should be spent elsewhere. “I think it’s highly irresponsible to construct a whole new campus for ag,” he said. “With the expected high funds for construction, a lot of the other areas of school will go unnoticed, completely isolating other departments and almost making ag the focus of the school.”

Allison Wagner, a former FFA officer, agreed. “I believe that the ag program can provide an enriching experience to those that find an interest in that field,” she said. “However, the funding severely overestimates the amount of students that are involved. It is very astonishing that while there are several floristry classes, the school cannot afford to renovate the girls’ softball field, resulting in them sliding on concrete after all these years.”

Wagner added that the school seems to be placing the agriculture curriculum “hand-in-hand,” with other departments such as English and mathematics. While ag courses are not required for students to graduate, some say the ag department seems to be taking on the same importance. Wagner said the ag department has two computer labs, which it has been stingy about sharing.

She said the school is “promoting the program to incoming freshman over other courses of study.”

In fact, almost every student at King City was urged to consider ag courses and FFA enrollment upon entering school as freshmen. Students from the program in King City get time away from school to promote ag to eighth-graders at Chalone Peaks Middle School.

The current ag department is expected to be bulldozed and replaced with a parking lot. The new ag campus will be developed by the current farm and is expected to take up the area behind the Mustang bench concession stand.

While there seemed to be some consensus of concern regarding the ag program, there are many who said they have been positively impacted by this program.

For instance, Clarissa Rios is a current FFA officer who said “the school does not hold ag classes to a higher degree of importance than classes that teach trade skills. By taking an ag class like ag mechanics, students are learning valuable trade skills yearlong.”

“Many students can apply the skills they learn in class in their future careers,” she said. “However, by taking a class like ag mechanics, students are also taught about the FFA organization and what it entails. So if a student merely wants to focus on wood and welding projects, they aren’t able to solely concentrate on those things because part of the curriculum involves learning about the FFA organization.”

Rios said she sees the ag program as a beacon for those who see a future for themselves in the industry. She also suggests that the school provide alternative trade programs that are not tied to ag.

Supporters also say that programs offered in the agriculture department should not be cut.

I believe the ag program is important because of the opportunity it offers for many students.  However, I think it would be foolish not to acknowledge that the school seems to be neglecting other areas of extracurricular activity as well as mandated academics. The drama and music departments, like many others throughout the country, have been struggling. Many students passionate about the arts often turn to outside organizations such as Sol Treasures simply because the program at KCHS is considered sub par due to lack of funding. Even so, students who choose to interact with those departments will quickly recognize their strengths.

I feel that by further developing the ag program rather than improving and diversifying our other areas of study, we no longer promote each student to follow a course of study that they feel passionate about. In fact, many students already feel pressure from the school to enroll in ag classes that they have no interest in. In doing so, the school is turning its back on a key mission, exposing the student body to a wide range of options. Also, although much of the  money is coming in from the outside, it could lead to existing funds being diverted away from other programs with more severe needs.

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