Utah Department of Agriculture and Food

Education Takes Root at New Agricultural High School

Roots Charter High School in West Valley City officially opened in August 2015, making it the first public farm based high school in Utah.  The urban students are raising sunflowers, pumpkins, tomatoes, cucumbers and other vegetables, as well and caring for goats and other animals. A lot of the produce they grow is sent to the company that contracts to provide lunch for the students. This direct connection makes the Roots students’ farm to school experience more direct than many other schools. However, the result is the same: the students have a greater understanding of where their food comes from, and how great it tastes when it comes directly from the farm.

“By reengaging a student in education you are engaging them in life,” said school founder Tyler Bastian. Bastian, a former character education teacher at Paradigm High School, he believes a farm-based school is a good place to teach character through experiential education. “Retention goes way up through experiences and authenticating it,” he said. An outdoor based school usually has high attendance levels among its students, which re-engages them with school and life, Bastian added.

The building that houses the staff and the 160 inaugural students does have classrooms, but learning is centered on the small farm across the street.   The students learn about farming but in the process are taught to critically think.  If a crop or project fails, it fails.  However, that failure gives students the opportunity to discover the ‘why’ the failures happened and work to solve the problem.  The farm is also used as the setting for fine arts projects, English and writing assignments, and other disciplines.

According to Bastian, the gardening and labor parts of the curriculum teach the students skills that give them opportunities for summer employment and beyond. “Opportunity reform is our goal. If a kid doesn’t feel he has any opportunities in life, it doesn’t matter how much you reform the education system.”

Senior student Savanah Medina is an example of opportunities sparking motivation. As she and fellow student, freshman Nathan Cable, showcased the vegetable farm plot on a pleasant late September day, Medina shared some of her future plans.

“I have a 10 year plan. After I graduate from Roots I plan to go to Utah State [University] and get a degree in Ag. education. Then I will come back here and teach, and one day be the principal.” Medina said confidently. 

Her younger classmate doesn’t have quite as clear a view of the future. “I don’t really know what I want to do in the future,” Cable said. “Before I came here I hadn’t ever done any gardening or anything. Now I really like it.” In fact, in this first year, 90 percent of the students have had no direct connection to farming before starting at Roots.  Bastian says he is excited to see what they will be like after this year’s freshmen have had four years of the Roots experience. While most of them may not become farmers, he admits, he believes they will leave the school having a greater understanding of agriculture and food systems, and what it takes to produce food.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Nathan Cable, left, and Savanah Medina, right, check the winter squash in the school garden.