- Associated Press - Thursday, May 28, 2015

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah (AP) - To many people, the farm is a just a place to grow fresh vegetables, raise animals and tend a beehive or two.

But the creators of the new Roots Charter High School see the farm as a learning tool: a way to teach students basic subjects like math, science and language arts as well as life skills such as hard work, accountability and “reaping what you sow.”

“The goal isn’t just to create farmers,” said 38-year-old Tyler Bastian, the founder and principal of Roots. “It’s to create kids who have the tools they need to accomplish what they want in life.”

Rather than focusing on skill-and-drill lessons, students at Roots in grades 9-12 will tackle farm projects, work in teams and solve problems. And while some students eventually may choose to run a farm, their experiences also are designed to prepare them for college and possible degrees in science and environment studies, Bastian said.

Bastian and a board of directors have set up the school’s classroom space in a West Valley office park at 2250 S. 1300 West. But much of the learning will take place about one block south on a 5-acre plot that KSOP radio is letting the school use, said Bastian.

“The farm adds authenticity to what they learn,” he said. “They can see in the real world where those principles apply.”

While the start of the school year is still a few months away, Bastian, his staff and several future students already have been busy, clearing stones and preparing the soil for planting.

“This year our harvest will be small,” Bastian said. Next year, though, he expects the school to have a full farm, growing produce and selling it at a farmers market and through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Students also will raise a dozen or so turkeys, as well as lambs and pigs. They also will tend beehives for honey.

About 120 students so far have enrolled for the 2015-16 school year. The school’s application deadline is June 1. But Bastian believes the staff and community are planting the seeds for a larger enrollment in the future.

Roots is opening at a time when interest in agriculture is high and people have a growing desire to eat locally grown food, said Luke Petersen, owner of Petersen Family Farms in Riverton and president of the Salt Lake County Farm Bureau.

While Roots should benefit from the trend, the idea of using the farm as a learning tool is nothing new.

“Farms have been turning out exceptional employees, public servants and leaders for thousands of years,” said Petersen, a Roots board member. “It used to be that everybody had a chance to be a part of a farm and had the opportunity to learn these life lessons that really span all disciplines.”

It’s only been in the past few generations that the world has moved away from that, he said, and it’s been a detriment for some children.

“When you participate in a life that’s a completely a man-made synthetic system (think Facebook and Instagram) you miss out on the lessons you can learn by being part of something greater than yourself,” he said. “That’s what the farm provides.”

Numerous studies back up the theory, he said, showing that students in outdoor classrooms and other forms of nature-based education programs typically earn higher grades and score better in reading, writing and math.

Spenser Clark was one of the first students to enroll. “A nontraditional high school was appealing to me,” said the 16-year-old, who said he didn’t do well in schools where the focus was about “teaching to the test instead of learning valuable life skills.”

Clark said he hopes the experience of working on a farm will “broaden his mind” before college. “It seems like a good, hands-on way to learn and see the fruits of my labors.”

Utah currently has 110 charter schools and Roots is believed to be the first farm-based option in the state. Bastian said it is modeled after an 18-year-old charter school in New Haven, Conn., called Common Ground. Besides a high school, Common Ground operates an environmental education center and an urban farm. Many other states also have farm-based school programs.


Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, https://www.sltrib.com

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