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August 19, 2014, 10:51 pm

Hands-on learning is Saul’s trademark

Working with plants, animals is routine


Ride pass Henry Avenue in Roxborough and you will see the largest agricultural farm school in the United States. W. B. Saul High School of Agricultural Sciences spans 150 acres within city limits and is on a mission to prepare its students for work in agriculture or science upon graduation. The school has 15 agricultural majors to choose from, and reports a 95 percent graduation rate.

“This school is so unique in so many ways, because in addition to receiving a quality education, we are also getting hands-on experiences in the fields of agriculture and science,” said senior Debbie Lynn Mayo. “I want to become an animal behaviorist. I want to study the psychology of animals. Since being at Saul I’ve learned how animals react to certain things and how they think. I will already have a head start in my field by the time I graduate, and I’m looking forward to applying what I learned at Saul in college.”

The school boasts a working farm that includes cows, goats, sheep, and horses. Students haul 50-pound feedbags, drive tractors, harvest eggplant, study milk produced on site for bacteria, and care for horses.

It also has the typical high school features, such as athletic fields, in addition to its arboretum, nursery, cropland and pasture.

“Getting a chance to work with animals every day is something that a lot of students don’t have the opportunity of doing,” said sophomore Saria Cooper-Burks. “This school is a great learning experience.   It’s not just about working with the animals;I’ve also learned information on family groups of the animals and gender by appearance. All these skills will be needed in order for me to become a veterinarian. The opportunities hereare endless, and the school does a good job of giving us opportunities academically and personally.”

For junior Isaiah Nelson, Saul gave an opportunity to be a part of a unique learning experience. Nelson didn’t want to go to a school in a traditional ssetting, and Saul also helped him realize a new passion.

“I didn’t want to just go to school in sit in a class all day, I wanted to go to school that was more hands-on, and Saul fit that description,” Nelson said. “When I first came here, I was interested in being a veterinarian, but with the help of my teacher Ms. McAtamney, I realized I was good at botany. I’ve created a natural dye out of an invasive weed. I went to city, state, and Indianapolis for Nationals. I won silver at Nationals.”

In addition to the school’s core curriculum, Saul students also participate in various clubs including Ag Business Club, Environmental Science Club, Floriculture Club, Greenhouse Management Club, Horse Club, Jr. MANRRS, Land Use & Management Club, Livestock Club, Meats Evaluation Club, Nursery/Landscape Club and the Pre-Vet Club.

Saul achieved AYP from 2008-2011. The school has multiple state champion career developmental event teams. It also participates in Philadelphia Flower Show exhibits and offers students multiple internship opportunities with community organizations such as Longwood Gardens. Saul has Pennsylvania's largest chapter of FFA, the organization formerly known as Future Farmers of America, and one of the biggest chapters in the country.

“FFA helps us learn a lot of leadership skills,” said sophomore Rodger Silby. “It’s an opportunity for students to research, compete, go out to different schools, and take trips. It helped me learn life lessons as well as learn things about myself. Being a part of FFA and going to Saul has really opened my eyes and let me see all of the great things that I’m capable of doing. It’s really a good experience.”

AP environmental science teacher and FAA adviser Jessica McAtamney helped develop a large community-supported agricultural (CSA) program at the school. She went to the White House, where she was honored as a "Champion of Change" for her work with Saul students.

“I was nominated for the Champions of Change through the FFA,” McAtamney said. “They recognized people who were working with students locally as agents of change. We went to the White House, where we sat on panels with the USDA and discussed agricultural topics that are of importance to the nation and students. It was definitely an honor to be nominated, but the students here help make my job easier. They are so dedicated, they push the limit academically, and I just love teaching and helping them succeed.”

Sophomore Chelsey Deal hopes that through the students’ success people will see how great the school is and how dedicated they are to their work.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about Saul students,” Deal said. “We’re not cowboys and cowgirls, but students who are taking the next step to achieve our dreams through a hands-on academic experience. We have good teachers, a diverse environment, and great opportunities. We are hard-working students who want to make a difference in the world. We’re the innovators of the future.”