Hayes Center project bears close watching

Thursday, February 23, 2006

With declining population, a struggling farm economy and irrigation problems looming on the horizon, it's tempting for Southwest Nebraskans to give up.

We would be better off, however, taking our cue from Hayes Center, where they are doing their best to play the cards they have been dealt.

Voters there recently approved a $2.8 million school bond issue there, narrowly, and the facility will be ready when it is needed.

It wasn't part of the school bond vote, but the new building will fit nicely into plans for Hayes Center becoming an "ag magnet" school.

Toward that end, officials brought in Angelia Liefeld, who helped start just such a program at Mead, Neb., home of the University of Nebraska's Agricultural Research and Development Center.

Liefeld's talk referred to Mead's ag magnet activities, but some aspects of her talk should make us sit up and take notice:

* Before the program started, 80 percent of the school's students planned to leave the state after graduation. With the program in place, that dropped to 5 percent.

* Ag enrollment went from only nine in grades seven through 12, to all but 15 of the 130 junior-senior high school students.

* The school changed its daily schedule from eight 50-minute periods to four 50-minute periods and two 90-minute periods to allow for more in-depth classroom work.

* Job shadowing is an important part of the program, as is foreign exchange study in places like the Dominican Republican and connections with Australia and Armenia. Distance learning also connects Mead with ag classes in Yutan, Wayne, Cedar Bluffs and Wahoo.

The involvement of businesses for job shadowing -- Liefeld listed a dozen -- as well as for financial support such as a $43,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, is key to Mead's success. The Mid-Plains Community College area is already involved with Hayes Center, and the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis should be a natural fit as well.

We should all keep a close watch on Hayes Center, as well as Mead its "mentor," for ideas that can be applied to all aspects of education.

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