By Aaron Parker, Aiken High School educator
The Agricultural and Forestry Career Tech Pathway is in its inaugural year at Aiken High School, but the agricultural background of the students and school itself provides the necessary support for the present and future. Aiken High School is situated in College Hill within the Cincinnati Metro area. Historically, the site of the school housed Farmers' College, an agricultural school and an Underground Railroad abolitionist bastion from 1846 until 1885, and serves as the foundation of the reincarnation of the agricultural program at Aiken, today.
Celebrating a two-year anniversary this February, Aiken's agricultural program was renewed by tapping into the diverse cultural experiences of the students themselves. Home to a collection of over 30 countries and as many languages from around the world, the international students of Aiken were invited to apply their knowledge, experiences, and skills to an underused collection of 35 raised beds. Within months the dormant beds sprung to life with the herbs, fruits, and vegetables synonymous with cultural backgrounds of the students themselves. Simultaneously, Aiken students were engaged in developing the agribusiness centered around the social enterprising standards of sourcing, roasting, brewing, and selling coffee — which many times originated from the same countries of the students themselves.
Spring forward two-years and the youth development program in agriculture at Aiken has grown to include a career tech pathway of 90 international students, a student-led FFA chapter, a philanthropic coffee business, a forward-thinking orchard of 21-fruit trees, the hatching and raising of chickens, a communitylinking natural resource trail, and a "Victory Garden" that continues to defy a global pandemic.
To explore the issue of the impact of youth development programs, our class utilized the graduate research of Joyce Mwakatoga's graduate thesis at The Ohio State University, "Improving Food Production and Food Security in Tanzania through a Youth Development Program in Agriculture." We focused on the eight essential elements of positive youth development programs (based on belonging, mastery, independence and generosity) and reflected on whether Aiken is providing the opportunities for our students now, so a future in agriculture would be more certain.
The students shared their own thoughts about this experience: "Our agricultural class gives us opportunities to learn about coffee and learn about plants and trees in our community. We would identify invasive trees and cut them. We would identify orchard and native trees and save them."
"We share our love to our community and to others with our vegetables and fruits. We are working on a trail for students to walk and have a hike, enjoying the fresh air and nature. We bring our cultures together to create a big family with our work that we do."
"The program gives us skills that we can use in our future careers like communication, active listening, teamwork, and how to collect data."
"My experience with Awaken at Aiken is roasting, brewing, and using the money we make to help people in need."
"I know that the healthy food we planted in our garden last year was delivered and eaten by a lot of our students during the summer when we were locked down."