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  • Dylan Anderson

South Routt students show off their ag program and boast about the doors it's opening for the future

Funded by more than $2 million in local and state funding, students say it is offering them opportunities no other students in Colorado have

The new greenhouse at SOROCO High School is state-of-the-art and allows students to grow plants that they then sell to the community. (Dylan Anderson/The Yampa Valley Bugle)

South Routt students showed off their new agriculture and technical education space on Wednesday, a space that opens up opportunities for students across Routt County to acquire skills that will set them apart in the workforce from the day they graduate.

The space, nestled behind South Routt High School in Oak Creek, includes renovated classrooms, additional welding and workshop space, a commercial-grade kitchen and a state-of-the-art greenhouse, prepares students for careers in agriculture and beyond, allowing them to acquire professional certifications and college credit before they leave high school.

“At the end of the day, we know that not every kid graduating from SOROCO is going to college and even if they are, we are here to make them more ready for that,” said Carmen Anarella, a student in the program. “If you have your welding certifications, great you can go out into the workforce. If you have your food handler certification, great, go work in a kitchen.”

“We have resume builders, are more employable and we’re ready for college too,” Anarella continued. “We’re getting them ready to be out of high school if that’s a (college) education or the workforce.”

In one class, students first learn how to use computer-assisted design software to create blueprints for a building and then they use those designs to construct that very building. In another, they learn about animal biology and then practice artificially inseminating cattle.

SOROCO Ag Program
SOROCO students Olivia Rossi, left, Emily Rossi and Rachelle Dudley, right, talk about the Ag Program at their school and how it is opening doors for students in the workforce and for a college education with Rep. Meghan Lukens. (Dylan Anderson/The Yampa Valley Bugle)

One class teaches students about food safety, how to organize a kitchen and the business of making and selling their own locally-produced food products. By the end of that class, students have a five-year ServSafe certification, a required piece of many food production jobs.

In one natural resources class, students raise endangered sucker fish, eventually releasing them in to the Colorado River in partnership with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. In a plant science class, they do soil testing and use equipment that even makes the U.S. Forest Service jealous.

“This is so much nicer than the government’s,” Anarella said, noting her dad works for the Forest Service.

The ag program —which is in partnership with the Hayden School District, whose students showed off their facilities last week — is funded by more than $2 million in local donations and a state RISE Grant and is widely participated in by students in these two rural school districts. More than 70% of SOROCO’s students are taking classes in the program. Nearly a dozen students from the Steamboat Springs School District have transferred to SOROCO to take advantage of the new facilities.

“Not all individuals after high school want to go to college,” said Olivia Rossi, another student in the program. “We have so many more opportunities to learn and test out different areas of agriculture.”

Jay Whaley, a longtime teacher at SOROCO and one of two heading up the agriculture and technical education program, credits the start of the programs recent growth to Hayden Superintendent Christy Sinner. He said Sinner reached out to him to see how she could partner with them to get more agriculture classes in Hayden.

SOROCO FFA students
Members of SOROCO's FFA Chapter cut a ribbon outside of the school's agriculture education building, celebrating the expansion of the program made possible by more than $2 million in local and state funding. (Dylan Anderson/The Yampa Valley Bugle)

After brainstorming, Whaley said they applied for and received more than a million dollars from Gov. Jared Polis’ RISE Grant Program. They then got another grant of $250,000 from the federal government and another $925,000 raised by the Yampa Valley Community Foundation. Another $220,000 came from people within the South Routt Community and students are quick to point out appliances and other features donated by businesses from the Yampa Valley and beyond.

Tim Wohlgenant, executive director of the community foundation, said none of that fundraising would have come together so quickly without the students advocating for their futures.

“The reason all this money came in so quickly was really because of the ambassadors. (Ag teacher Reese Melton) and Jay and all of you students who spoke out for this program and really demonstrated its importance to this community,” Wohlgenant said. “I hope you’re really proud of it.”

The program is the only one in the state of Colorado to teach all six pathways to students: plant science, power structural/technical-safety/tool identification, natural resources, agriculture business, animal science and food products. Whaley said he only knows of two other programs in Texas that are doing the same, and neither of them has a commercial kitchen like SOROCO.

“I’ve been asked why are you teaching this… why ag,” Whaley said. “This is the foundation industry for all industry in America. … Until you eat it or put it on your body, it is all ag. We’re teaching the whole process.”

Sliced brisket, sourced from local beef and prepared in the SOROCO ag programs new commercial kitchen, waits to be served at the SOROCO FFA's Chapter Banquet. (Dylan Anderson/The Yampa Valley Bugle)

Whaley said he has a student currently working in welding who is making more money now than he does. Another is a water lawyer in Kansas. Some are working in agriculture finance and some are working at universities. Kirk Henwood, superintendent of the South Routt School District, said not only is the program at SOROCO an example for the state but the nation.

“People come here to see what we do,” Henwood said. “This is the next step, the next iteration of what ag does look like and what it will look like in the future.”

,s students gave tours of the new facilities, SOROCO’s Future Farmers of America members were using that commercial kitchen to prepare a feast for the South Routt community to enjoy as part of their annual banquet. At the banquet was Kayla Rossi, a SOROCO graduate who was back Wednesday in her role as State Treasurer of the Colorado FFA Association. Rossi said she was proud to see how much the program has grown since she was a freshman in 2018.

“(Career and technical education) programs are very beneficial to everyone involved, no matter if you’re a student, teacher, community member, everyone gets to participate in that,” Rossi said. “Watching the community all come together (Wednesday night) and have the biggest smiles on their faces is really important.”

SOROCO FFA student pose for a photo with Colorado Agriculture Commissioner Kate Greenberg and House District 26 Rep. Meghan Lukens. (Dylan Anderson/The Yampa Valley Bugle)

SOROCO’s FFA Chapter honored dozens of students’ achievements at the banquet on Wednesday night, here are some of the recipients:

District Winning Leadership Development Events:

· Creed – Emily Rossi

· Prepared Public Speaking – Olivia Rossi

· Extemporaneous Speaking – Carmen Anarella

· SOROCO’s Parliamentary Procedure Team

· SOROCO’s Conduct of Chapter Meeting Team

American Degree Candidate – Kayla Rossi

State Degree Candidates – Carmen Anarella, Rachelle Dudley, Makayla Iacovetto, Alan Mayer, Olivia Rossi

National Proficiency – 2022

· Kayla Rossi – Gold National Finalist – Sheep Production

· Britney Iacovetto – Silver – Outdoor Recreation

· Hailey Minnick – Bronze – Equine Science

· Luke Duksa – Bronze – Div. Ag Production

Beer Entrepreneurship – Olivia Rossi

Food Products and Processing – Carmen Anarella

Diversified Livestock – Larhae Whaley

Poultry – Alyvia Cox

Ag Processing – Rachelle Dudley

Landscape Management – Larhae Whaley

Outdoor Recreation – Ruby Hill

Swine Production – Makayla Iacovetto

Record Book Awards:

· Bryan VandenBurg – Open Ag One Record Book – Placement SAE

· Emily Rossi – Open Ag One Record Book – Entrepreneurship SAE

Notebook Awards:

· Emily Rossi – Freshman Notebook

· Ruby Hill – Sophomore Notebook

· Rachelle Dudley – Junior Notebook

· Matilde Carrara – Senior Notebook

2023 Star Greenhand – Emily Rossi

2023 Star Chapter Farmer – Olivia Rossi

2023 Blue and Gold Award Recipient – Jeannie Jo Logan, Ciara Bartholomew


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