An Education That Includes Horses, Honey, Corn and Manure
Mt. Greenwood's Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences gives students a wealth of on-the-job training.
Oh sure, Mt. Greenwood’s Joe Gasparas goes to regular classrooms that have desks, books and blackboards.
But the sophomore also gets his schooling in a room filled with manure, shovels and animals. Life for Gasparas and 599 other students at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences features both bookwork and practical work, which could find them planting flowers, caring for animals or selling fresh vegetables.
Gasparas said he has learned a lot about the care of horses, cows, pigs and chickens through some classwork and as a worker in the barn, which sometimes isn’t the most pleasant of environments.
“You get used to the smell after a while,” he said. “It takes a while, but you do. I don’t even notice it. We clean out the pens. We give the animals food and water. We take them out to the pasture and clean up the place.”
Founded in 1985 and now in its 28th year of operation, the school is the only one of its kind in the Midwest. At 111th Street and Pulaski Road, the school is set on the only farm inside the Chicago city limits.
Farm Manager and Educator Scott Nelson said students work all year on the 78-acre farm to keep it running.
The school’s vision and mission statements say it wants to “create a positive learning environment that will support the integration of our academic and agricultural programs" and to provide “opportunities for diverse students from across the city to study agriculture with the goal of developing marketable skills as well as college level competencies.”
Sophomore Noor Ahmad, also of Mt. Greenwood, said she wants to go into the medical field but added that “everything is related to agriculture.”
She has spent time working at the school’s farmstand, selling everything from vegetables to honey made from the beehives on the school’s farm.
“I got to meet a lot of the members of the community around here,” she said. “People have heard about us and we have a lot of the locals and regulars who stop by. And we’re getting new people coming in and asking questions.’’
Some of the farm-grown food includes acorn and butternut squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, collard greens, peppers, okra, zucchini, eggplant, watermelon, cantaloupe and cabbage.
Chicago’s Bacari Crockett, a sophomore, said he likes the small-school atmosphere and some of the unusual things he has learned.
“It’s a small school where teachers are friendly and you know everybody as opposed to a big school where there are so many kids – it’s just better for me,” he said. “I’ve learned things a lot of people don’t know about things like cabbage, worms and animals.”
And sophomore Jessica Cepielski of Chicago, who hopes to become a veterinarian, learned a skill few in Chicago high schools will get to learn.
“We actually sheared sheep,” she said. “We use sheep shears and it’s kind of like giving a haircut.”
Nelson said that there is talk of building a similar school on the North Side.
“There are a huge amount of kids who apply to get in here,” Nelson said. “It’s something like 1,600-1,700 kids and there are only about 150 spots per class.”