Rockville Agriculture program hosts town's first-graders
By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Fri., Jun. 3, 2011
Vernon first-graders – 317 in total – got a taste of the Rockville High School Regional Agriculture Program on June 2, at the department's annual open house.
The young students rotated through 10 workshops presented by the high school students and other volunteers, including aquascience, two petting zoos (indoor and outdoor), lessons on tractors, and a flower-planting section.
Melissa Higgins of Coventry gave a lesson in sheep-shearing.
“Sheep are really docile animals,” she told the children, as she explained that the sheep are sometimes difficult to control, but generally settle down to get their “haircut.”
Higgins explained that she is one of only about seven sheep-shearers in the state, and she enjoys educating the young students. While shearing sheep for the past 15 years – at 500-700 sheep annually – she just recently started her own hobby farm with her young daughter.
“I work for all the other sheep farmers in the area,” she said. “It's a dying breed, and it's hard work. I pride myself to be gentle with the animals.”
Students were allowed to pet the department's chickens, goats, cows, rabbits, geckos, toads, dogs and some of its newest residents – two alpacas.
In one of the workshops, the children had to identify what products come from what areas within agriculture - flowers from greenhouses, vegetables from fields, etc.
Freshman Kayla Veilleux was working in hip-waders inside the school’s shark tank.
“They’re freshwater sharks,” she said. “When they grow up, they'll get to be 4 to 6 feet long. But, they're really young, so I don't mind being in here with them.”
Still, the curiosity of the first-graders was piqued.
“They ask why I'm in the tank, and why they don't bite me,” Veilleux said. “We keep them vegetarian, so they don't have the urge to bite each other [or humans]. Even if they tried to bite, I'm wearing the protective gear.”
Agriculture Department Head Karen Fitzpatrick said this year's first-graders were the first class to see the school's upgraded outdoor facility, which included new fencing for the animals, as well as upgraded paving and a new grain storage facility.
“We get to show off our new facility and our alpacas,” she said. “We're showcasing what we do, and giving our high school students an opportunity to practice leadership skills, like public speaking, maturity, and other things.”