Teachers are pulled in many directions, but one thing most do not need to worry about is a 1 a.m. phone call about a bloated steer.
But, as an AgroScience teacher at Braden River High School, Megan Welch’s duties go beyond grading papers and lesson planning.
One night earlier this year Raeann Folds, a Braden River student, called Welch in the middle of the night to tell her that Toby, her steer, was double his normal size and full of gas. Welch drove to the barn behind the high school and waited with Folds for the emergency vet while tending to Toby.
“He would have been dead the next morning had she not called me,” Welch said.
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Although 1 a.m. phone calls are not the norm, handling animal crises comes with the territory. Welch is one of three agroscience teachers at Braden River, which has the largest agriculture education program in the county. That says a lot in a county filled with “ag” education.
In April, the Florida FFA Association named Braden River, along with Lakewood Ranch, Palmetto and Southeast high schools and Buffalo Creek Middle “Florida’s Finest” FFA chapters. On a list of 31 schools statewide, Manatee County was represented five times.
“This is not just a one-off year. Every year Manatee County is represented,” said Doug Wagner, the director of Adult, Career and Technical Education at School District of Manatee County. “Our community should be very proud of our agro programs. They are state and national models.”
Currently, Braden River has two heifers in the barn behind the school, several chickens and seven cows and a bull in the back pasture.
Amanda Neal, 18, said caring for those animals and raising pigs on the side has taught her responsibility. The bloated steer incident was just one example of the animals demanding the students’ dedication.
“It is a full-time job. It's like having a kid. These animals are alive and they depend on you completely for their care and their well-being,” said Neal.
Braden River is a “wall-to-wall” academy school, meaning every student in the school chooses a focus that guides their academic path. Students who opt for the science and health track can take classes in horticulture and veterinarian science. Students can graduate with veterinary assistant certifications and Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape (FNGLA) Certification.
Genaveve Henson, 18, graduated Wednesday and is headed to the University of Florida to major in agriculture education and communications. She and her sister began a calf-cattle operation a few years ago to earn money for college. Unfortunately, the cattle market dropped and this year’s drought forced the sisters to spend much more on hay than they had anticipated. The money did not come in as hoped.
Henson said the disappointment was a valuable lesson in real-world economics.
“Everything is a risk,” Henson said. “That’s one of the biggest lessons I've learned — you may not always be successful at something you put your heart into.”
Those tough life lessons are what make AgroScience different from other academic tracks. And it requires students to employ the skills they are learning in their standard high school classes.
“You have to learn about anatomy or biology and physical sciences....and you have to learn how to write in the industry, and you learn math for budgeting reasons,” Henson said. “I think it’s kind of cool that it incorporates everything we are required to learn at school into one specific place.”