Lakeside Jr./Sr. High agriculture program sees new life

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Lakeside Jr./Sr. High School has revived its agricultural program.

Ag teacher Josh Utley has been an agricultural teacher for four years and says he offers a well-rounded program – more than just welding or livestock. While he’s still building the program and the facility at the school, he says students are not only working together, but they are getting experience and exposure in several different areas connected to agriculture.

“The significance is very high,” he said. “A kid coming into my program, I’m not trying to make them a master of anything. I’m not trying to make them a master electrician, I’m not trying to make them a master mechanic or a master welder. I just want them to get experience. I’m kind of the stepping stone.”

The idea, he says, is to give them a taste of several different areas associated with agriculture, such as electricity, mechanics, welding, carpentry, small engine repair, horticulture, poultry and livestock.

“Usually, I can take any kid and find something in which they can excel,” he said.

So far, he’s been teaching kids in the shop with small engine repair and mechanics. He’s also introduced 75 broiler chickens for the kids to raise and show at the Louisiana State Fair. In about six weeks, he says they will weigh about eight pounds.

The lessons in raising the chicks is to narrow the detachment from farm to table, he said. Louisiana’s biggest industry is forestry and poultry is among the top industries.

Utley is also the sponsor for the Future Farmers of America club and many of his classes interact with club activities. So far, the club has 30 members.

Agriculture is also part of the Jump Start Initiative, offering students an alternate career path. The program is funded in part through the Webster Parish School Board, but mostly it’s funded through federal grants from the Carl Perkins Vocation and Technical Education Act. Perkins is federal dollars deemed for vocational practices, Utley said. It also funds home economics and business as well.

Utley, with the help of Ashley Hooter, received a $33,000 grant from the Louisiana Construction Education Foundation which went towards the purchase of welding machines and equipment.

Principal Denny Finley says they started the ag program because Lakeside is a rural school and many of their students would benefit from such a program.

“We’re a country school, and you just have good ole country kids here,” he said. “I’ve always wondered why there wasn’t an ag program here. I’m like Josh, I think these kids need to know how to do things in life, and about the time I took the principal’s job, Jump Start was coming down the pike where you had to get kids certified in different areas.”

Utley is a 12-month employee, which means he will be at school during the summer months tending to livestock and plants they may have. They are getting a greenhouse in January, he said. Larger livestock is also in the plans, such as pigs, he added.

Utley is a 2007 graduate of Minden High School, and graduated from Louisiana Tech University in Ruston getting his certification to teach agriculture.

“I just want kids to be successful and be able to go to work,” he said. “They get to take something and do something with it. It gives a sense of pride.”

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