Readying Yampa Valley youth for careers in agriculture

Over the years, the gap between farm and table has grown significantly. Many people have no idea who produced the food they eat or how it was cultivated. The Yampa Valley RISE project aims to change that by reestablishing the local focus on agricultural education for almost 800 kids in rural Hayden and South Routt School Districts. 

District administrators and teachers seek to expand career-connected learning opportunities and create sustainable, relevant, and adaptable agricultural pathways of the future for their students. Their ambitions were bolstered by a $1 million grant and initiative driven by Governor Polis, intended to help close the gap in education inequality in Colorado. Established in February 2021, RISE partners are leveraging the region’s historical way of life, natural beauty and existing ranching and farming assets.

RISE stands for Response, Innovation, and Student Equity in Education. The program encompasses over half of the student population and is inclusive of both traditional and non-traditional agriculture students, ages K through 12. Administrators and teachers tap into local businesses and individuals to enhance the curriculum and provide work-based learning opportunities for students. 

“Every morning I’m blessed to wake up and go to a job where I impact student growth,” reflects Hayden’s agricultural education teacher Eric Wellman. “I help students develop their passions and expose them to an industry that’s the root of all other industries.”

Students choose courses in natural resources and wildlife management, plant sciences and soils, food products and processing, agriculture mechanics, welding and animal sciences. There are tracks devoted to power, construction and energy. Both districts have learning labs including commercial kitchens, greenhouses, storefronts, and shops where kids can hone their trade skills. Students have concurrent enrollment opportunities through Colorado Northwestern Community College in Rangely, where they can earn an associate certificate in Agriculture as well as other certifications in CTE (Career and Technical Education) while they’re still in high school.

“Alpine Bank has been a tremendous support for our organization through community connections and monetary donations,” says RISE project coordinator Jeannie Logan. “With their help our program has reached several supporters and contributors. Alpine brought together the local banks in our community for a joint support effort.”

Learn more here, yvcf.org/yampa-valley-rise-program/

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