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Farm Theme Saves Kansas Elementary School From Closing

From guest blogger Gina Cairney

While some rural schools deal with declining enrollments that could result in school closures, one K-4 elementary school in Kansas decided to take a unique approach that not only saved the school, but nearly doubled its student body.

Located about 30 miles north of Wichita, Kan., the Walton 21st Century Rural Life Center had only about 75 students by 2005, according to the Kansas City Star. But after turning the school into an agricultural themed charter school, it thrived, attracting families from other towns as far as 30 miles away.

There's currently a waiting list for kindergarten that goes to 2018, but plans are in the works, according to the paper, to expand the campus to include more students up to the 8th grade.

"We knew we had to do something or we were going to lose it," Natise Vogt, the school's principal told the Kansas City Star.

Rain, snow, or shine, the students help tend to the school's livestock and garden, but the school isn't cultivating future farmers.

This hands-on, project-based curriculum is the first in the country that incorporates agriculture into the classroom, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

It teaches the elementary school children reading, science, and math as it's used in real-life applications. Rather than sitting in a classroom with open textbooks, the students use what they learn to determine things like how much an egg weighs, or how much hay is needed per head of livestock, according to the paper.

Adding. Subtracting. Multiplying and dividing. All with furry animals and dirt.

State assessment rates also improved, from 85.9 percent for reading and 86.7 percent for math when the new school opened in 2007, to 96.7 percent for reading and 100 percent for math the following school year.

"Fair to say, it has far exceeded our expectations," John Morton, former Newton School District superintendent who came up with the agricultural-themed charter idea, told the Kansas City Star.

The U.S. Department of Education visited the Walton 21st Century Rural Life Center and made this video.

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