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Why More City High Schoolers Are Taking Ag Classes

Complete with crops and farm animals, agriculture programs are exposing city students to careers they might not have otherwise considered.
Students at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences inspect corn stalks. Operating since 1985, their school is a model for other urban high schools looking to incorporate agriculture education.
Students at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences inspect corn stalks. Operating since 1985, their school is a model for other urban high schools looking to incorporate agriculture education.Courtesy of Chicago Public Schools

Several years ago, leaders of the public-school district in Decatur, Illinois (population 72,000), realized something was off. The city has the highest poverty rate in the state, as well as neighborhoods with 20-percent unemployment. Yet it’s surrounded by agriculture giants—equipment manufacturer Caterpillar and grain processor Archer Daniels Midland—and they’re hiring.

“We’re right here in the middle of the agribusiness universe,” said Zach Shields, the executive director of the Decatur Public Schools Foundation, “and we were not connecting our city kids to those opportunities.”