Mon, Nov. 18

MUHS ag classes take to the lab: outdoors
Creating their own learning experiences

MUHS ag students (right) hook up a section of the flood irrigation system they have designed and are building in the department’s new outdoor lab.

MUHS ag students (right) hook up a section of the flood irrigation system they have designed and are building in the department’s new outdoor lab.

Some big changes are occurring with agriculture classes at Mingus Union High School. Most of them are occurring outdoors.

Ag teachers Heather Mulcaire and Justin Brereton have always taught their students with a hands-on approach, and both teachers have taken their students outdoors to work on as many projects as possible. Now, Mingus ag students will have even more access to projects just a few steps outside their classrooms.

"Right now we are in the midst of building an awesome new ag lab located above the football field," Mulcaire said. She said the classes are resurrecting the greenhouse, have their fish tanks going, gardens planted and are currently terracing for a bareroot grape crop and getting ready to plant 80 fruit trees.

The ag department recently took over some unused space near the practice football field. The students are busy, under their teachers' guidance, doing the work themselves.

"The kids are currently installing the automated irrigation system in the gardens and greenhouse," Mulcaire said.

Brereton said the kids are doing the work on the irrigation system. "They are designing and installing all types of irrigation, including flood delivery (garden), sprinkler delivery (greenhouse), and low volume drip for the fruit orchard and grapes."

Brereton said the addition of Ali Toth, a former MUHS ag student, to the department as an instructional aide has been a huge factor in the development of the new outdoor ag labs.

"With so many projects occurring at once, she is instrumental in making sure that students are safe, and that we have the supplies to overcome any obstacles that occur," Brereton said.

All of the work done on and in the labs ties in directly with important instruction and standards.

For example, the greenhouse construction meets many standards in agricultural mechanics. "Students have poured concrete, measured and cut metal and wood, along with complex problem solving," Brereton said. That also gives the students "real life" experience with math and calculations.

When the greenhouse is complete, Brereton will be able to continue plant science instruction with a lab component through the winter.

The students also are terracing a rocky slope with poor soil to plant a vineyard for table grapes and a fruit orchard. "With these fruit trees we will meet pruning standards, and students will be exposed to some sort of ag business venture of their choosing," Brereton said.

With the gardens designed and planted by students, a mixture of salad greens will be grown and distributed to teachers and staff. Brereton said the students will break into groups to perform real jobs associated with production and marketing. The jobs include everything from general manager and harvesting to advertising and delivery.

For Mulcaire's animal science classes, the students will raise meat birds and egg layers in the chicken coops they are building. They also will conduct different feed experiments.

In the agriculture fish tanks, Mulcaire's classes will raise 1,000 trout from eggs to stock in Mingus Springs Lake next spring. An ongoing project with koi will teach the students to take sample counts, convert feed ratios, monitor water quality, build biological filters and identify fish species.

Even worm bins enter the picture for the Mingus ag students. Mulcaire's class is rebuilding some worm-composting bins. Starting with only 1,000 worms the students can double the worm population in only one month.

By shredding paper from the school's offices and using scraps from the cafeteria to supplement the worm bins, the students are learning about sustainable agriculture.

If these projects aren't enough for the Mingus ag students and their teachers, Mulcaire said her sophomores recently toured the shrimp farm in Gila Bend. "Other classes are hatching out trout eggs next week, touring the Sterling Springs Fishing Hatchery and beginning their vermicomposting labs as well," she said.

Mulcaire said that she and Brereton are very excited about their jobs. "Everything we do is super cool."

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