New Indiana Agriculture & Technology School Is Training Next Generation of Farmers

Writer / Nicole Sipe

Provided Photography

Agriculture is a big business in Indiana, contributing about $31.2 billion to the state’s economy and providing jobs for more than 107,000 Hoosiers. The problem is, the average farmer is 64 years old, and new farming techniques are becoming more high-tech. How to deal with this problem? A new school might have the answer.

The Indiana Agriculture & Technology School (IATS) is a new tuition-free charter school that pairs online learning with labs and project-based activities on a farm in Morgantown, south of Indianapolis. The idea behind the school is that students in grades 7 through 12 will have the opportunity to prepare for a career in agriculture before they graduate. Students will study biosciences, agribusiness, conservation, environmental science, forestry, drones and other farm-related subjects.

“Students will typically take six credit hours a semester, and they determine what their day looks like academically,” says Keith Marsh, executive director and chief academic officer for IATS. “The student’s academic day is monitored daily by their course instructor, their academic tutor if they need one, their success coach who helps them organize and prioritize their academic studies and their student learning advocate who monitors the entire team and works daily with the student. The ratio is four educators to one student. That is very unique in a virtual educational setting.”

IATS has offices in Carmel, but students do all their academic learning online, so there are no physical school classes to attend. This setup is unique and is the first of its kind in the area.

“We know that there are agriculture schools, such as the one up in Chicago, that is a magnet for the Chicago Public Schools,” Marsh says. “But from what we know, they are set up like a traditional school with a building. We do not know of anyone who has a 600-plus acre farm campus as well as being a virtual school.”

IATS is working with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to create their project-based curriculum.

“Some of the activities that we want to offer are forest management, orienteering and mapping, water and soil management and wildlife management, just to name a few,” Marsh says. “We will also offer a drone certification program that starts in their junior year of high school. Junior year consists of online learning, and at the end of the junior year students will take a test with the Future Farmers of America and become certified commercial drone pilots.

“Senior year consists of visual stick flying, where students will be flying all sizes of drones to become proficient in flying,” Marsh says. “They can put this certification in their back pocket and utilize it in a lot of careers, especially in the agriculture business.”

Students who graduate from IATS will earn either their Indiana Core 40, Core 40 Honors or Core 40 Technical Honors diploma.

“Then, they can pursue the workforce right out of high school or attend a two or four-year college of their choice,” Marsh says.

And what about the students who change their mind about an agriculture career?

“Students do not have to pursue an agriculture career to be enrolled in our school,” Marsh says. “We will prepare them for a career pathway of their choice out of high school or to enter a college or university.”

For more information about Indiana Agriculture & Technology School, visit Classes start July 30.

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