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Project-Based, Agriculture School Gaining Attention

A high-profile Kansas charter school that overhauled its curriculum to integrate agriculture in all of its classes has inspired at least one other traditional school to replicate its model.

The Walton Rural Life Center in rural Walton, Kan., has attracted national attention for its transformation. Its conversion to a charter school and emphasis on agriculture revived its enrollment, and the school has to turn students away for lack of space.

Now, Chase County Elementary School Outdoor Learning Center in Strong City, Kan., has embraced the Walton Rural Life Center's project-based outdoor learning center philosophy, and students are responding enthusiastically, officials report.

"What I'm doing here can be done anywhere in this nation," said Principal David Warner in a story in the Topeka Capital-Journal as he explained how a project-based learning program in Wichita could incorporate the aerospace industry or a project in Topeka could have a technology/business focus. "It's a proven model, and it works."

The Strong City school's 190 students in grades K-6 learn in traditional classrooms, as well as a teaching barn, chicken coop, greenhouse, and recycling/composting center. The principal implemented the change as a way to transition to common core and fight declining enrollment.

Rural charter schools are relatively rare—Only 16 percent of all charter schools nationwide were rural, compared with 33 percent of traditional schools—and they're often controversial because they draw students (and funding) away from the traditional neighborhood schools.

According to the National Association of Agricultural Educators several urban districts use used agriculture as a way to teach other subjects (Chicago, Philadelphia and Minneapolis), but it seems the rural model is unique.

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