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Project showcase features agriculture’s ‘endless possibilities’

December 6, 2018

Ledyard — The high school’s agri-science wing was filled science fair-style with tables and poster boards Wednesday, but instead of experiments and the classic baking soda volcano demonstration, students were presenting their homemade chicken coops, internship experiences and a “sheep to shawl” pathway, complete with sheep and the shawl.

Wednesday’s showcase was the second annual presentation of students’ supervised agricultural experience projects, known departmentally as SAEs. Department head and animal science teacher Devon O’Keefe said they hosted one last year to show freshmen and sophomores some of the many options they have for their own projects and also to give upperclassmen a chance to show off their work.

“The kids had a blast, especially the kids that were exhibiting because they’re proud,” she said. “This is what they chose to do. They want to be able to share all of the cool stuff they’re doing.”

SAEs, a required component of the agri-science program, are out-of-school projects designed to supplement skills students learn in class, teach employment skills and introduce them to different career paths. Students work with an SAE advisor all four years of the program to develop their project; O’Keefe said some students stick with one idea and expand it over the course of their high school career, while others switch projects based on new interests.

About 26 students presented in the showcase this year, she said.

Senior Darian Allen’s SAE focused on beekeeping and maple syrup production. She said she’s been helping with the sugaring production on the Mashantucket Pequot reservation since she was a kid, and the beekeeping portion of her project came from a class she found. Her dual projects also keep her busy throughout the year.

“The bees are one of my favorites because you can see their eggs hatch through the honeycomb, and it’s just cool seeing how they work,” she said.

Several students’ SAEs focused on different aspects of horses, including riding and equine therapy. Senior Ava Swartz of Montville volunteered at therapeutic barns, teaching kids how to ride and learning the business side of things, something she said she hopes to pursue in college. Junior Nya MacDonald of New London said she learned stadium jumping and dressage, working together with her pony for nearly three years.

“It was a learning curve for her and me because neither one of us had done it before,” she said, saying it was neat to learn together. “As we’ve gone through it, she has helped me gain my confidence, and as my confidence grew, so did hers.”

Milliam Torres, a senior from New London, said she had been stumped for an idea that would combine her interests in horticulture and psychology. After talking with O’Keefe, her SAE incorporated flower arrangements and DIY skincare, and she said she learned a lot about how the visuals and scents of popular body products and arrangements are influenced by psychology.

Sophomore Nicolina Coronis built a custom dog kennel for her SAE, and she said she was planning on designing a cage for her new ferret as the next part of her project.

Groups such as Kitty Harbor and the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center and Coogan Farm also had tables to give underclassmen ideas for their SAEs.

“At the end of the day, we want kids to leave our program well-versed in multiple agricultural content,” O’Keefe said. “We want them to leave with employability skills through the SAE.”

a.hutchinson@theday.com

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