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Hawlemont to grow farm-based curriculum

Seeking input from farmers, officials, public

Recorder file photo
Hawlemont Regional School is looking at adding a farming-based curriculum to the school. It’s a proposal that is seeing growing support.

Recorder file photo Hawlemont Regional School is looking at adding a farming-based curriculum to the school. It’s a proposal that is seeing growing support.

CHARLEMONT — Reading, writing, ’rithmetic — and now farming — may soon be part of the Hawlemont Regional School curriculum.

School officials are moving forward with plans to develop a farm-based curriculum for Hawlemont and they’re looking for suggestions on how to do so from local farmers, growers, town officials and the Hawley-Charlemont community.

The school district is sponsoring a “Community Conversation” on Tuesday, 5 p.m., in the Hawlemont cafeteria.

For several years, Hawlemont, like other West County schools, has been looking for ways to boost enrollment and make best use of its available resources.

In September, school board Chairwoman Ivy Palmer, a small-scale farmer, raised the idea of a school-based farm program, to give children a “hands-on” educational experience, with agriculture as a teaching tool for children.

Support and enthusiasm for the idea has been growing, and the School Committee is moving forward. It has authorized the superintendent to pursue a Community Innovation Challenge Grant and set up community conversations about how to do it.

School Superintendent Michael Buoniconti said school officials are hoping to use the land behind Hawlemont for learning through food-growing, agriculture, renewable resources and environmental themes. They’re also hoping to establish relationships with local farmers to extend the learning experience beyond the school grounds.

The model for Hawlemont’s plan is the successful transformation of the under-used Walton Public School in Kansas that was on the verge of being closed because of its low enrollment, in 2006. The school had only about 100 students before it was transformed by the local school district in an agricultural-curriculum charter school, now called the Walton Rural Life Center. Now the school has an enrollment of 167 and a waiting list through 2018.

Buoniconti said both enrollment and student achievement levels have grown since the farming curriculum was put into place in 2007.

“Now, fundraising is under way to build more classrooms,” Buoniconti said. “If it can be done in rural Kansas, why not rural Massachusetts?”

Hawlemont currently has 98 students from prekindergarten through Grade 6 — not including the temporary us of the building by Rowe School.

“We want to create something that is going to make sense for Hawlemont and for the community,” said school Principal Travis Yagodzinski, who grew up in Hatfield and worked on farms throughout his teens.

“For instance, the Kansas school has a greenhouse, a chicken coop, and a barn with sheep and pigs. That’s where our conversation started: What could we do? Could we have a greenhouse or a chicken coop?”

Since the land is town-owned, the school would need permission from the town for some of the farm ideas. Also, he said, the Kansas school has an “adopt-a-farm” procedure, in which each class adopts a farm, where they can go for field trips and learning beyond the classroom.

For Hawlemont, Yagodzinski said, this might translate into farms that children could visit on field trips during sugaring season, as one example. “Lets use whatever relationships we have with farms, to learn from our neighbors,” he said. “There are all sorts of connections that are quickly and easily being formed” by staff members who already have ties to the farming community.

“A piece of this is that we’re not looking to buy a curriculum,” he stressed. “We’re talking about tying real life and learning together.”

Teacher Jean Bruffee, who runs a small farm with her husband, says that Hawlemont teachers are very excited about the possibilities.

When asked what the children think, she said the idea hasn’t yet been presented to the schoolchildren — because Hawlemont wants to make sure the adult community of town officials, school parents and school staff are behind it first.

“But you can pretty much guarantee that kids are going to be excited about this program,” Bruffee said, noting that a lot of Hawlemont children already have ties to the farming community, through their neighbors or relatives’ farms.

“A lot of people really want to be involved,” she said. “This is one of those instances where it’s going to take the towns and the community to make this happen. We also think this is going to be a community builder.”

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