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Ag students flourish

Got pigs strolling the campus?  If so, it can only mean one thing: Jurupa Unified Agriculture students are preparing for the fair.

Indeed, Rubidoux and Jurupa Valley high schools sent 22 and 30 students, respectively, to the recent Riverside County Fair in Indio – where the performance of both contingents drew praise and made their community proud.

The students' teachers called their work at the fair "fantastic" and "amazing."  The instructors were proud to be part of this great group of California youth achieving their goals.

"Overall they won many awards," said Ms. Kelsey Finnicum, agriculture teacher at RHS.  "And all of the students made a profit on their projects." 

Said Ms. Marlisa Nordstrom, ag instructor at JVHS: "They spend a lot of time working on projects before we get there, so it's great to see them succeed."

The Rubidoux students showed pigs, goats, sheep and cattle, said Ms. Finnicum.  The cattle were too young to sell (they will be ready JVHS ag fair 1 0317.jpgin October for the SoCal Fair at Lake Perris Fairgrounds), but the other livestock did well, she said.   One student brought in more than $1,000 for a pig – for a profit exceeding $500.  And many received additional donations from community members who wanted to help the students.

More typically, students earned a couple hundred dollars on investments of about $400 to $450 per animal, Ms. Finnicum said.  In all, RHS students sold 20 animals at the fair, to buyers including farmers, private parties, large/small businesses and breeders.  While getting their animals prepped for the fair, students wrote letters in advance to facilitate sales and tempt those who might have interest.

Jurupa Valley students also turned profits in selling 33 animals at the RHS ag fair 5 0317.jpgfair, said Ms. Nordstrom.  But her contingent focused on showmanship: "For us it's all about how well they can exhibit their animal," she said. 

JVHS students began their projects in November, the teacher said.  They spent two to three hours per day cleaning pens, exercising the animals, and learning to control them: "A lot of our students were walking our pigs all across our campus." 

To impress the judges, Ms. Nordstrom said, students gathered industry facts, anticipated questions from the judges, and learned how best to showcase the livestock: "Heads up, go slow, show all angles of the animal."

"The No. 1 fear in the world is public speaking," Ms. Nordstrom added.  "So we really focus on that in our classes.  Now our ag students feel comfortable talking to anybody and explaining what our organization does and what it is.  They can have a sophisticated conversation with judges, PETA, administrators and others." 

Both teachers said participating in fairs, along with classes in subjects ranging from agriculture biology to veterinary medicine, helps build habits for lifelong success.

In addition to public speaking, the students learn responsibility, dedication, leadership, financial management, and job skills, said Ms. Finnicum.

Ms. Nordstrom said the ag program helps pull students from their comfort zones.  "They learn to have responsibility for something other than themselves," she said.

Both instructors called successful ag students hard-working, goal-driven, respectful, competitive, and often, campus leaders.

In all, 13 Rubidoux students won college scholarships at the fair – after interviewing with members of the fair board – ranging from RHS ag fair 7 0317.jpg$250 to $1,000, Ms. Finnicum said.  At JVHS, Ms. Nordstrom said one student won a $750 scholarship from the fair board.

At the end of the day, how hard is it for students to relinquish animals they've tended and trained?  The teachers said the goodbyes can get emotional, but students are clear-eyed when embarking on their projects.

"They know we give the animals a good life while we have them," Ms. Finnicum said. 

With the profit earned, many students begin create their first savings accounts, build college funds, and pay for additional expenses they incur during high school.  Some have even been able to buy their first vehicle.