The 165 ninth-graders who head to the STEAD campus for their first year of high school in the fall of 2021 won’t find a list of daily courses timed by bells, or classrooms stuffed with desks. Instead, they’ll be greeted by farmland, barn-like structures housing laboratories, and a team of teaching professionals ready to guide them through various hands-on projects involving food science, farming, water and sustainability, all while encouraging them to consider how traditional subjects like math and chemistry might apply to real-life conundrums about the future of agriculture. The students might start growing something in an aquaponics laboratory, then plant the same crop outside for comparison. They might work with Leprino Foods in a science lab. Or they might gather classmates with overlapping but disparate research interests to set up an experiment on how to make crops more drought-resistant.
STEAD students will graduate with a high school diploma, but their high school years will be different from those of any other students in the state: They’ll sign on for a full-scale agriculture-based educational experience, one combining career and technical education with experiential, project-based learning. Students will focus on a career track — STEAD will offer four pathways, including food science, animal science, plant science and environmental science — with activities geared toward helping them move into their chosen field after graduation, whether through apprenticeships, concurrently earned associates’ degrees, or preparation for a four-year college program.