By TRAVIS MORSE
BLUFORD — —
To Webber Township High School junior Jacob Persman, the school's newly remodeled agricultural construction lab offers a much-improved educational environment.
Before, students working in the lab had to use outdated equipment that would often break down, costing everyone valuable time.
But now the laboratory is in tip-top shape, allowing the students to focus more closely on their work, Persman said.
“We got just a lot of extra things that make our lives a lot easier,” Persman said. “It makes it easier to learn.”
Thanks in large part to a state grant, the school was able to completely revamp the ag construction lab, which is used for woodworking and electricity-related classes. Some improvements were also made to the ag mechanics lab.
“Pretty much everything you see around is all new,” said senior Colton Lane. “Everything in this whole shop is an improvement. They put a lot of money and a lot of hard work into it.”
The total cost of the renovations was around $15,000.
Roughly $5,000 was provided by the local FFA Alumni organization. The remainder of the funding came from a $10,000 grant from the Illinois State Board of Education.
Many of the improvements to the ag construction lab involved purchasing new tools. They included: a miter saw, a band saw, planes, routers, and cordless wrenches and drills.
In addition, the lab was completely repainted and a new dust collection system was installed, said Daryl Kiselewski, the high school's agriculture education teacher. Some new tools were also acquired for the adjacent ag mechanics lab.
“When you walk out there, it just looks a lot nicer,” Kiselewski said. “The kids have a much better sense of pride about the shop.”
The renovations, though, were not just about aesthetics. The new tools and dust collection system make for a much safer environment for students, Kiselewski said.
“We got rid of the tools that weren't kid-friendly anymore,” Kiselewski said. “We don't have to worry about kids getting hurt.”
The ISBE grant funding is administered by the Facilitating Coordination in Agricultural Education project.
Dean Dittmar, program advisor for the FCAE, said improvement projects like the one at Webber Township High School help grow agriculture education programs at the local level.
The most popular jobs in agriculture now are in crop and plant science, agri-business, and ag mechanics, Dittmar said.
Farmers and producers, while vital, only make up 2 percent or less of the total U.S. population, he said.
This makes ag education programs all the more important.
“When you have a little more capital invested in that program, the school thinks twice about ever reducing that or eliminating that program,” Dittmar said.