DHS Agri-Science program finding its footing

Students in the greenhouse preparing flats to plant flower seeds

Students in the greenhouse preparing flats to plant flower seeds

Since the Agri-Science career track restarted at Demopolis High School three years ago, there have been four teachers for the program.

Nick Bussey started last January and is completing his first full year. At the same time the Tennessee Tech graduate, who holds a bachelor’s degree in animal science, is earning his master’s degree in education through an Auburn on-line program.

He recognizes the difficulty in keeping teachers. “Fifty percent of ag. Teachers don’t last five years,” he said.

He admits to conducting a very flexible class. While everything that is required by the state curriculum is covered, his students let Bussey know what interests them the most, and he will spend more time on that subject.

Agri-Science provides a broad introduction to everything that pertains to agriculture. Included are animal, plant and soil science, carpentry, electrical, plumbing and welding.

“We get a little bit of a lot,” he explained.

Bussey is very pleased with the equipment provided for his classes. “We’ve got the facilities,” he said, and he looks toward the future and expanding the program to reintroduce aquaculture.

Recently the high school received a grant from the state for $18,000, part of which will be used to purchase temperature and humidity controls for the greenhouse located just outside the workshop door. Working with the city’s horticulturist Barbara Blevins, Bussey hopes to have his classes prepare hanging baskets this spring and offer them for sale.

As his students go through the career track Bussey stresses the need for them to begin plans for when they graduate.

“We talk about wages,” he explained. He even goes so far as to show his pay check to the classes and what deductions are made from it.

Nick Bussey, right, directs the students on planting the seeds. From left are Clay Collins, Micah Ward and Tommy Waldrop

Nick Bussey, right, directs the students on planting the seeds. From left are Clay Collins, Micah Ward and Tommy Waldrop

“We do a little bit of that real world stuff,” he went on. “I want the kids to find a way to make money.”

Since Bussey is new to the area, he’s still learning where to go for materials and whom to ask to speak to his classes.

“I like guest speakers,” especially those from area industries, he explained. The students will listen to them more, especially when it concerns careers.

Having guests come is also important for the speakers. “They need to be here. This is where their workers are coming from,” explained Bussey.

Among the visiting speakers who have come to his classes are his wife, Dr. Sarah Bussey, a veterinarian with the Demopolis Animal Clinic, and her colleague Dr. Carrie Wright.

To help him Bussey has an advisory committee as required by the state. Members meet each semester to help him make the contacts he needs.

What disappoints him is that students often must purchase their own materials for projects since the $25 student fee don’t cover all the costs of supplies.

“They shouldn’t have to purchase their own lumber and metal,” he said.

He feels getting the program better known will mean more support in donations and speakers. “I would like them to know we’re here.” He said.

Part of getting that exposure is selling what the classes have produced. In addition to the proposed hanging baskets to be available for purchase in the spring, his classes have welded outdoor grills for sale and completed a headache rack for a local resident’s truck.

The money from whatever is sold goes back into the program to help cover costs.

“The good thing about my job is that it’s very visible. So when my kids build dog houses we put them out to sell them, and you can see them. You can see something getting done.”

Bussey takes some of his students on field trips to show them how what they are learning is put to practical use. He also has them visit area colleges, especially Shelton State, to check out further technical training.

“If I could be Shelton’s baby brother, like a feeder to Shelton, that’s what I’d want. They are top notch,” he said.

This story is part of a series highlighting the career tech programs at Demopolis High School. The series will appear on Sundays throughout February in honor of Career Tech Month.