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Two high school students and a teacher feed Christmas trees to three goats in a fenced-off outdoor pen
Rachel Sauvola, right, and students feed Christmas trees to goats at the SOAR Educational Center, a school farm she founded as an agriscience educator at New Richmond High School in New Richmond, Wis. The trees provide natural deworming and are a source of vitamins for goats, she says. 

Learning by doing

Agriscience instructor Rachel Sauvola is founder of the SOAR Educational Center, a school farm at New Richmond High School that offers students opportunities to work with agricultural resources.
Amy Sitze
May 2, 2023

On any given day, students in Rachel Sauvola’s agriscience class might be doing traditional tasks like writing essays or working on a group project – or they might be wading through mud and feeding cattle that will eventually end up in their school lunches.

Among Sauvola’s many titles at New Richmond High School in New Richmond, Wis., is founder of the SOAR Educational Center, a school farm that has chickens, ducks, goats, walleye in aquaculture tanks, a herd of beef cattle and “two very spoiled barn cats,” she says with a laugh.

SOAR stands for “student opportunities with agricultural resources,” and it really is all about opportunities, says Sauvola, who is also an agriscience instructor and FFA advisor at the school.

“I think it’s important to offer kids opportunities they don’t find elsewhere,” she says. “That leads to future careers and success, whether they go to tech school, serve in the military, go to a four-year college or enter the world of work.”

In addition to taking classes like “Plants, animals, pizza and more” – which focuses on ag careers and bigger-picture topics like supply chain issues – students at the high school can choose to do in-depth capstone projects at the SOAR Center or take a class that visits the farm a few days a week.

The school farm also connects the school with the larger community, welcoming volunteers of all ages to help with farm tasks like planting seeds and collecting eggs. Sauvola partners with more than 80 businesses in the community and more than 60 families who have donated animals to SOAR, which gives students even more opportunities to learn about career possibilities from a variety of perspectives.

“Students come into my class thinking the only careers in agriculture are as a farmer or veterinarian, so it’s my job to introduce them to the wide variety of careers they can have in the agriculture industry,” she says. “One way to do that is to work directly with industry partners.”

One industry partner has been the CHS Foundation. The foundation funds the National Association of Agriculture Educators’ National Teach Ag Campaign, which focuses on recruitment and retention of ag teachers. Sauvola has been an active participant, mentoring new teachers and creating professional development opportunities.

“These opportunities help teachers, which ultimately helps students achieve success,” she says.

After 24 years at New Richmond High School, Sauvola said she feels optimistic about the future of agriculture education. “There is no better career,” she says. “Each day provides new challenges, new successes and new opportunities to see students have aha moments in understanding how their food is made and grown. This is really the best job, even on the most challenging day.”

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