A rabbit cage sits in one corner of an agriculture class at Nation Ford High School. A folded hutch leans against a nearby wall.
They serve as temporary homes to farm critters Lee Petitgout brings to the school to teach students about animal care.
"The animals belong to me, and they are housed at my farm," said Petitgout, a farm girl at heart who has taught agriculture classes for two decades in Georgia and S.C.
That's because there is no room at Nation Ford for small animals like chickens, birds or cats - or larger livestock - to stay on a permanent basis.
"Basically, we have the classroom space which doubles as a lab," said Petitgout, a part-time instructor.
One room over from the rabbit cage and hutch sits a grooming tub, several grooming tables and a commercial dryer.
"We have the equipment that a groomer would have in their own shop," Petitgout said. "What we lack is the large facility to house the animals in.
"It's very difficult to teach children how to take a goat when it's weaned from its mother to a fully grown animal when you don't have a facility to keep that animal in."
When it's time to marry classroom learning with hands-on skills, Petitgout improvises and carts the animals to class.
"I have to basically trailer that animal in here and trailer it back," she said of the more than 35-mile trip from her home with farm animals in a trailer hitched to the back of her truck.
"That's getting to be basically an everyday occurrence."
It's a sacrifice Petitgout is willing to make to help her students practice and perfect skills they've learned in the classroom.
"It's extremely difficult to teach modern practices for animal care without participating in the practices," she said. "I can spend an entire period teaching it out of the textbook, or I could spend 30 minutes showing and would have accomplished the same goal."
Petitgout's days of hauling livestock and small animals to her animal care classes are about to end, courtesy of a $9,000 grant from the Lutz Foundation of Chester.
"In these financial times with all the educational funding cuts, funding a barn for this project can't be a priority right now," Petitgout said. "This grant turned a long-term dream into a short-term reality."
The grant allows for expansion into a barn and support for Nation Ford's chapter of the Future Farmers of America, principal Beverley Bowman said.
"The barn will allow us to expand our animal science program and better support our FFA students," Bowman said.
The Lutz Foundation provides grants primarily in Chester and neighboring Lancaster, Union and York counties.
"Ultimately, the goal is for there to be a place for the animals to be housed," Petitgout said. "We want to build a barn and fence in the area for these students to be able to keep their animals and raise them."
The barn's projected square-footage is 24 feet by 26 feet, she said.
"We're hoping to have two to three large animal stalls, a paddock and a small turnout pasture," she said.
Construction is scheduled to begin next month.
Want to help?
To donate money to support the animal science program at Nation Ford High School, send checks payable to Nation Ford FFA to Nation Ford High School, 1400 A.O. Jones Blvd., Fort Mill, SC 29715.
Material donations, such as fencing, installation, shelving, brackets, muck rakes, straw and bedding are welcome. For details or questions, contact Lee Petitgout at 803-835-0000 or email@example.com.