By Randy Tatano
Special for Atmore News
This is perhaps the most unique main room you have ever seen.
Because students at WS Neal High School in East Brewton aren’t learning farming skills in a classroom, but in a new barn on campus.
The facility currently houses 22 cows. Students feed, groom and care for the animals they have raised from calves that will then be sold. Some students buy their own calves and can resell them for a profit of between $500 and $1,000. Others “borrow” calves from local farmers and then pay the farmers after a sale.
Agriscience professor Josh Coleman leads middle school and high school students who not only learn about animal husbandry and farming careers, but also learn essential life skills.
“Responsibility, hard work, financial management. They are responsible for having their own buyers. Most of these children have never been around cows or calves.
Coleman says teaching the class in an outdoor setting is really enjoyable.
“It’s different, it’s not in the classroom, not standing in front of a class doing a lesson. It’s out there, close at hand.
Senior Sadie Stone has found her career path through the classroom and is looking forward to owning her own farm.
“It’s a lot of hard work and keeps me busy most of the school year. I want to create my own once I graduate.
Elder John Rhodes wants to carry on his family’s legacy.
“My grandfather and all the others were farmers and it brings me closer to them, and it’s a beautiful project because it helps me connect with these animals. Learn some life skills along the way.
On the homework side, the students take turns taking care of the animals on weekends. Right now, they are preparing for the FFA competitions in March.
The facility, whose interior was built by students, is one of the few in the state to be on campus and was dedicated to longtime agricultural teacher and principal Philip Ellis. It was funded by several local grants and donations from Gulf Coast RC&D, Poarch Band of Creek Indians, Bondurant Lumber, State Representative Alan Baker, County Commissioner Raymond Wiggins, and local parents and farmers.
Brewton resident Randy Tatano is a veteran television journalist and network producer, and is currently a novelist and freelance writer for the Escambia County School System.