Back to School: East Union Middle rising sixth graders make connections with the state’s largest industry
Agriculture is the top industry in North Carolina, contributing $87 billion to the state’s economy. Even more locally, Union County ranks third in the state for agricultural business production and is the state’s top producer in almost every crop and livestock category.
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of agriculture and STEM-related jobs in our county and throughout the state – and the job prospects in this industry are only expected to rise in the near future.
That’s why, with an eye towards the future, East Union Middle is introducing agriculture technology as its new school focus for the upcoming school year, beginning most recently with its annual weeklong Camp Jumpstart summer camp for rising sixth graders.
As in previous years, Camp Jumpstart participants spent the week meeting their peers and learning more about what is expected of them as they prepare to enter middle school. However, camp activities this year went a step further as students were immersed in a variety of hands-on, STEM-focused activities centered around agriculture.
With each day specifically devoted to learning about space, food science, biotechnology and more, it wasn’t uncommon to walk past a classroom and see students extracting DNA from a strawberry, making butter, learning about the technology behind milk production or examining the intersection between outer space and agriculture. Union County staff were also on hand to help students connect what they were learning to future career opportunities.
“This camp combined STEM, agriculture and biotech. We tied everything together to help our students think outside of the box when it comes to agriculture,” said East Union Middle agriculture teacher Morgan Molihan. “At the beginning of the week, students said agriculture was about animals and plants. By the end of the week, they were telling me about the science, technology and robots behind agriculture. That was our goal.”
But, Molihan added, Camp Jumpstart is only just the beginning.
During the 2019-20 school year, East Union Middle will introduce its AgTech Academy to students. The academy is a partnership with Wingate University that will introduce students to the growing world of agriculture and technology.
“Agriculture is very big here, and it’s really important for our county, economy and jobs. We’re expanding our focus on agriculture and technology because you can combine it with science classes, social studies, math, English Language Arts in different ways,” she added. “Our students can graduate from high school and go right into the agriculture industry here.”
As part of the AgTech Academy, East Union Middle sixth graders will spend the year exploring agricultural technology, space and artificial intelligence. As students progress through the academy, they will learn more about sustainable agriculture, renewable energy and agricultural biotechnology in seventh and eighth grades.
Partnerships with Wingate University, Share Space and the Aldrin Family Foundation, NC Cooperative Extension and other professional agriculture and STEM organizations will help provide additional resources, programming and professional development opportunities – all of which will allow students and staff to explore careers even more.
When she learned that her middle school would soon be the hub for agriculture technology education in Union County, rising sixth grader Abby Moore could barely contain her excitement.
“It was really cool to learn so much about agriculture and do all of the activities during Camp Jumpstart. Agriculture is really big here, and we need to learn how to combine that knowledge with technology so we can be successful when we grow up,” she said. “It’s really fun to think about how agriculture is going to be a big focus while I’m in middle school. I can’t wait to get started.”