COPLEY, Ohio — The Next Frontier Academy may be doing something new, but the vision of the school is rooted in something traditional: agriculture.
A lifelong educator, founder John Hairston saw a need for a school devoted to agriculture.
Beyond science and math lessons, Hairston said his experience picking corn for a farm in the Ravenna area when he was younger taught him accountability and responsibility, and those lessons have carried with him through life.
After spending years in education, Hairston realized how disconnected youth had become with how food is raised and he got to thinking about reconnecting them. That’s when the vision of Next Frontier Academy came to him.
Now, the charter school is up and running with 36 students in its first quarter of the school year.
Hairston worked to find investors and then put together a team of teachers and a principal to develop the school he had designed.
Next Frontier Academy Principal Tarik West and Hairston are now working together to build the school. Both feel that by attending a school devoted to agriculture, students can learn the lessons they need such as critical thinking and creating strategies.
Hairston said the school is full of opportunities for youth who may not have had the opportunity to do something as simple as putting their hands in dirt.
Both Hairston and West feel traditional schools have been too broad in their studies and it means some students fall through the cracks and don’t get the education they deserve. There are charter schools being developed to help students concentrate on certain areas such as leadership and entrepreneurship, but until this fall, no charter school focused on agriculture.
In addition to Next Frontier Academy, Global Impact STEM Academy opened this fall in Springfield, Ohio, with an agricultural concentration.
Hairston said Next Frontier Academy will help students gather the same skills as leadership and entrepreneurship by using the agriculture industry to grow those skills.
Hairston said charter schools have an uphill battle, and acknowledged some have misrepresented funding, which has painted a bad picture of all of them. He wants transparency in Next Frontier Academy management system, and said Blue Lake Management manages the school, with 80 percent of the state funding going to the school and 20 percent going to the management company.
Agriculture is incorporated into every subject. The teachers are working to include agriculture in vocabulary words and literature, history lessons and math examples.
Some ag examples will build on previous lessons. For example, seventh grade students are researching the care of chicks and chickens, and ninth graders are creating a business plan and marketing materials to sell the eggs.
In math class, the seventh graders will learn calculations neded for the amount of feed needed per chick and eighth graders will calculate the amount of grain, vitamins, minerals and additives for feed. In science class, students will learn how to formulate feed rations, growth rate, egg production and conduct experiments.
Science teacher Leo Boes was conducting an experiment with the students the day the Farm and Dairy visited. The class was conducting experiments with different liquids and eggs. The goal was to see the effect of the liquids on the shell of an egg.
Boes said the lesson is not just about what happens to the eggs, but can be used to teach students about cells.
He said some of his class time has been spent busting myths the students had about animals and the outdoors. Boes had students tell him it was dangerous putting their hands in dirt, so he has worked to ensure the students learn about soil and how plants grow.
In history class, students will study egg production and how it has changed over time.
The incredible egg project is another project the students at Next Frontier Academy are participating in. It is designed to communicate to the youth the value of an egg.
The goal is to increase demand for eggs and egg products as students market and sell eggs as a revenue source for their school. Students will earn a stipend for the success of their written business plan, marketing plan they execute and the selling of the eggs.
Another project the school is working to implement is the incubator business program. It is designed to provide students with hands-on experience and help them learn about the farm business and the agricultural careers that exist in the agricultural industry. Throughout the year students will visit different types of farm businesses, agricultural manufacturing plants and farm-related businesses.
In addition to incorporating agriculture into lessons, the school is reaching out to agriculture-related business and professionals to help them bring agriculture into the school.
Nancy Rosener, co-owner of Copley Feed and Supply, has already taught some lessons to the students about chickens. The lesson included where eggs come from, the difference between egg layers and broilers and the processing needed to make the chickens edible.
Another lesson planned is how to grow vegetables through hydroponics.
The Smithers-Oasis North America division in Kent is also interested in developing what the school offers and its graduates. Smithers-Oasis is a company develops growing mediums for ornamental and hydroponic vegetables for food sources.
Robin Kilbride, Smithers-Oasis president and company executive officer, donated a 1,000 square foot greenhouse to the school. It will be used to develop hydroponics lesson plans and an aquatics program.
The school will be tearing the greenhouse down from the current location and re-constructing it so students can utilize the structure. Due to space limitations at the school, it is not clear where the greenhouse will be reconstructed.
Hairston said he is hopeful that with the help of the teachers, the school will have the greenhouse up and running as soon as possible.
He added he hopes to build the enrollment at New Frontier Academy to 150 students.