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Students to raise cattle for lunches

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POSTED September 15, 2013 6:07 p.m.

HAGERSTOWN, Ind. (AP) — School lunches are about to take on new meaning at Hagerstown Jr. Sr. High School.

Plans are underway for the school’s students to raise their own beef cattle during agriculture classes this year, the same cows that will be slaughtered, butchered and, ultimately, turned into the hamburgers that will be served in the cafeteria.

Officials are calling the initiative “Where’s The Beef?” and agriculture teacher Nathan Williamson says it will offer a unique learning opportunity for his students and a $2,000 cost savings for the Nettle Creek School Corporation’s budget.

“It doesn’t get any more hands-on than this,” Williamson told the Palladium-Item.”They have a vested interest in this. All of these guys eat in the school cafeteria.”

Students have begun erecting a fence on a hillside just northeast of the high school on land the school corporation owns.

The plan is to solicit bids for the cattle and buy up to 10 beef cattle annually, with students doing all the work as part of the requirements to complete the animal science and agriculture mechanics classes.

“We’ll feed them corn throughout the winter,” Williamson said. “The students will do all the work. And on top of just their general care-taking, I’d like to have some small projects for them and changing the feed rations so they can learn a little about that.

“Part of the end goal of this is to make it as much of a whole-school activity as possible,” he said.

Students have responded well to the unusual school activities, especially having the opportunity to learn outside the traditional classroom.

“I love just learning this stuff,” senior Eli Reagan said. “I don’t get to do this stuff outside of school, so it’s nice to come in and learn to build a fence, just in case I have to do it in the future. It’s been a good time being outside of class and just working with our hands.”

Senior Connor Mathews agrees. And he has a message for the school’s underclassmen: “The class below us should really thank us for this.”

The school corporation will be aided by donations from a number of supporters, including several area companies that have donated supplies or excavated the property where the fence is being built at the corner of Pike and Lacy roads.

They include Brown’s Excavating and Drainage in Greens Fork, Weddle Fencing Company in Farmland, Fraley Truck and Implement in Rushville, and Applegate Livestock Equipment in Union City.

One year from now, Williamson said the cows that current students will feed and care for will be turned into whole-cow hamburgers, an upgrade over the burgers currently served in the cafeteria.

“We can’t afford to give every student a T-bone steak, but whole cow hamburger is generally better quality than a regular hamburger you’re going to get in the store,” Williamson said. “We know where all of our meat is going to be coming from. When we ask for bids, we’ll rely on our expertise. We want quality cattle, but we want the best we can afford.”

Nettle Creek Superintendent Bill Doering said “Where’s The Beef?” — which Williamson proposed with fellow agriculture teacher Don Strugeon — is their contribution to his call for the district to “right-size” or cut costs.

Last year, Doering proposed a cost-cutting strategy to save the district of 1,100 students an estimated $350,000 through the current school year after it lost 41 students last fall and 25 were lost the year before.

Indiana’s schools receive about $6,000 per student in tuition support.

Doering’s strategy included a renewed commitment to decreasing utility costs and the layoffs of five teachers, a librarian and several teaching assistant positions.

Doering spared the district’s swim program and certain elementary sports once volunteers came forward to help and propose new opportunities to generate revenue.

“Everybody has had to become creative,” Doering said. “This is Mr. Williamson and Mr. Sturgeon’s brainchild. They came and pitched the idea. Not only is it a chance to save some money, but it’s also a chance to give kids opportunities that they don’t have anywhere else in the area.”

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