Fort Mill Times

Indian Land has tradition of ag education

FFA junior adviser Kace Faulkner, from left, agriculture teacher and FFA adviser Heather Alligood and FFA chapter president Baylee Rowland are ready for the new school year.
FFA junior adviser Kace Faulkner, from left, agriculture teacher and FFA adviser Heather Alligood and FFA chapter president Baylee Rowland are ready for the new school year.

Indian Land High School students enrolled in the Agricultural Sciences program can expect to get their hands dirty.

As the first school bell rings Aug. 17, there will be a fall garden to plant and a greenhouse to ready for the school year. Students have an egg incubator to raise chickens, a tractor to learn how to drive and a small pond to practice landscape design.

“We try to incorporate as many hands-on activities as possible,” said Heather Alligood, the school’s agriculture teacher and FFA adviser. “Kids learn better by seeing and using their hands.”

While the demographics of once-rural Indian Land have been changing as farmland is replaced with suburban housing developments, stores and restaurants, the high school’s FFA, or Future Farmers of America, program has remained vital.

The oldest yearbook that I could find in our archives dates from 1949, and FFA is listed as a vibrant activity under the direction of Mr. W.P. Leaphart. Mr. Leaphart was one of seven faculty members listed for the 1949 yearbook and his only class was agriculture. Other teachers are listed with dual roles such as Mrs. Leaphart who taught home economics and eighth grade science. If all the pages are intact the school had 10 seniors, 14 juniors, 17 sophomores and 24 freshmen in 1949. By counting the students in the picture, the FFA membership was 25 or about one-third of the school. FFA was probably part of ILHS prior to 1949 and has been an active and integral part of the school ever since.

David Shamble, principal of Indian Land High School

Agricultural Sciences, focusing on landscaping and horticulture, is part of Indian Land’s career and technical education programs and follows state standards.

Alligood, who graduated with an agriculture education degree from Clemson University in 2007, is the lone instructor and fills every seat in her classes, which include Ag Mechanics, Animal Science, Horticulture, Landscape Design and Agriscience.

David Shamble, ILHS principal, said he encourages students interested in veterinary, horticulture and landscape architecture careers to enroll in the program, a source of pride for the high school.

The senior lunch area in the front of the school was designed and is maintained by the ag program, he said.

About 165 ILHS students are in the program, Alligood said, and their future career and education plans vary, from students who will enter the workforce after graduation to those seeking two-year trade degrees or four-year university degrees.

Baylee Rowland, a senior, is the FFA chapter president at Indian Land and is running for a state office in the organization. She has competed nationally in floral design and enjoys the projects and activities in the program.

“We always have something going on,” said Rowland, who alongside other FFA officers will welcome ILHS teachers back to school with a cooked breakfast on Aug. 10.

The program opens its greenhouse every spring for a student plant sale – a project that begins with creating a planting calendar, then planting seeds or plugs.

Tomatoes and peppers are popular items as are decorative plants.

“Three hundred hanging baskets sold in a week,” Rowland said.

Last year, she learned how to weld and is in the process of building a chicken coop at her house so when her chicken eggs hatch, they have somewhere to live. She is considering majoring in horticulture in college.

Kace Faulkner goes to the garden to pick a banana pepper to eat. Experience on his grandparents’ farm in Indian Land drew him to the high school’s FFA program, he said, though he’s unsure if he wants to pursue a career in agriculture.

“My favorite was Ag Mechanics,” said Faulkner, a senior. “You learn how to build things with your hands.”

Alligood’s goal each day is to create real-life, hands-on experiences for her students.

Some days that includes tractor-driving instruction that requires memorization of steps and safety precautions.

“They know when I tell them something was ‘not so smart,’ that means to ‘get off the tractor,’” Alligood said with a laugh.

The vegetable garden is a favorite. In the fall, students plant mustard and collard greens, spinach and radishes. A new layer of topsoil is needed.

“They thought it was the greatest thing ever to eat radishes right out the garden,” said Alligood, who took the mustard greens and collards home to prepare them for the students.

“There are great students here and a great administration to support us,” she said. “I would love to retire here.”