Winter 1987 // Volume 25 // Number 4 // Feature Articles // 4FEA4

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Extension Goes to High School


Paul G. McKenna
Associate Director
Center for Faculty/Staff Development
University of Connecticut-Storrs

William G. Barber, Jr.
Cooperative Extension Administrator
Cooperative Extension Service
University of Connecticut-Hamden

It has been argued that Extension shouldn't have a role in formal education or in any area outside of commercial agriculture.1 However, the point can be made that such a role fosters agriculture and agribusiness. In New Haven, Connecticut, the University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension Service has been successfully involved in formal education through an inner-city high school that does just that.

In early 1983, the Extension administrator was interested in finding alternative ways to meet Extension's public service responsibilities. Extension was interested in sharing its knowledge and resources in the areas of food production, food distribution, nutrition education, resource conservation, energy conservation, and waste recycling with the urban community. From a discussion with the administration of the New Haven Public School System, an alternative inner-city high school was quickly identified as a possible site for a long-term cooperative venture.

High School in the Community

The High School in the Community (HSC) was established in 1970 and was the first alternative school in New Haven. It has a student body of 230, 60% of whom are black or Hispanic, and a professional staff of 18. HSC has a history of trying to vary teaching techniques to maintain student motivation. HSC also uses longer time blocks to meet total curriculum needs. Students can group class periods together so a whole morning or afternoon can be used for a particular class or group of classes. In previous years, HSC offered experiential learning opportunities at a local nature center, so the school was also accustomed to having students go off campus.

Pilot Project

Key Components

Through collaborative planning, the county administrator and a school administrator developed a proposal for a pilot project. Key components of this project were: (1) the unique collaborative nature of the program, (2) development of an interdisciplinary curriculum focusing on human life support systems, (3) emphasis on the relevancy of academic knowledge through the use of practical, first-hand experiences, and (4) through the project, development of a full proposal for funding a long-term collaborative effort between Extension and the High School in the Community. A small planning grant application was submitted to the Hazen Foundation in New Haven and subsequently funded.


Through the grant, a part-time consultant-coordinator was hired and Extension began to work with the high school teachers to design a curriculum for the 1983-84 academic year. Although the coordinator reported to the high school, his selection was a joint decision between Extension and HSC. Over the summer months, five HSC faculty members met regularly with the consultant-coordinator and staff of Extension to develop a five-course interdisciplinary curriculum. They wrote the full proposal for establishing and funding (through the Hazen Foundation) a long-term collaboration between Extension and HSC.

Early in the planning stages, it became clear that the HSC teachers weren't familiar with the services and resources of Extension, nor did the Extension staff clearly understand the curricula needs of the inner-city high school teachers. To address this gap, regular weekly meetings were scheduled for the first semester. In addition, the Extension administrator coordinated a site visit for the HSC teachers to the University of Connecticut College of Agriculture and Natural Resources to acquaint them with the resources of Extension and the University of Connecticut.

By the end of the summer planning period, five interdisciplinary course outlines had been developed: Appropriate Technology, Ecology, Food and Energy, the Politics of Food, and Third World Economics. Each course would consist of 120 hours of instruction and, by using HSC's alternative structure, could be completed in one nine-week quarter by using blocks of three or four hours. Except for the practicum components, which would be completed at the local nature center, the courses could be taught in a traditional high school.


The specific goal of the project was to establish a model high school curriculum that would acquaint students with life-support systems such as food production, nutrition education, energy use, and waste disposal. The experiences and resources of Extension would be incorporated into the formal academic program. The curriculum would emphasize first-hand experiences in small-scale urban food production, raising small animals, and related construction activities.


Extension would benefit by expanding its ability to disseminate practical information, and the high school would benefit through additional resources and expertise. The community would benefit by having demonstration projects located in public parks, community gardens, and public greenhouse facilities. The students would benefit by actually experiencing the application and relevancy of academic knowledge and by gaining an additional understanding of life-support systems. It was hoped that the practical nature of the project would increase the students' motivation to learn these subjects and pique their interest in agriculture-related careers.

Curriculum Integration Critical

A critical aspect of the project was the integration of the five-course project into the school curriculum. If the school adopted it, the project's continuation would be assured. Therefore, steps were taken early in the planning stages to foster this integration. The first year would involve the efforts of five teachers. In the second year, four additional faculty members would become involved, and by the third year, all faculty would be using materials obtained or developed through the project.

A parallel approach involved 30 students during the planning grant. The first semester, students participated in planting and maintaining a botanical field station at the nature center and designing a model solar greenhouse to be constructed if the full collaborative project was funded. In the first full year of the project, at least 50% of the student body would be exposed to the curriculum and, by the third year, all 230 students would be involved.

Status of Project

At this time, the project is continuing. There have been two major evaluations conducted and some modifications have been made in response to the recommendations contained in those evaluations. We learned that communication must continually be addresssed. Initially, Extension didn't understand the needs of the High School in the Community, and HSC teachers weren't aware of the resources available to them through Extension. That communication need continues, and regular monthly meetings have been reestablished.

The evaluations found that the project has been successful largely due to the strong commitment of Extension staff and the school faculty. However, it was the project coordinator who brought it all together. For example, he obtained the baby chicks for the broiler raising project, worked with the students in planting and maintaining the gardens, and helped the teachers by providing practical examples to support their lessons. While a university specialist taught the students how to slaughter the chickens they'd raised and how to prepare them for market, the coordinator was the on-site resource.

The HSC students are clearly benefiting from this experience. Their principal reports:

    The students are actively involved in learning. They are more motivated and sensitive to scientific education, they question more and see relationships that were not understood prior to this project.

The students have taken field trips to the university, visited a large egg production farm and a feed mill, gone to a local vegetable farm and orchard, and spoken with farmers, migrant workers in the fields, and university faculty in their labs.

In addition to producing food in the gardens and raising chickens, the students have conducted a food drive and prepared food for local soup kitchens. Students who once knew only the inner-city are now beginning to understand the role of agriculture, food production, waste disposal, and the environment in their lives.

Advisory Board

So that the project might continue after the completion of the grant, Extension helped establish an Advisory Board. On the board are representatives of Extension, Park and Recreation Department, Board of Education, Mayor's Office, and High School in the Community, as well as a city alderman, state representative, and several local businesspeople. Through the board's efforts, scholarships for further education were sought, as were placements for noncollege-bound students in agribusinesses or in agriculture-related fields. The board was also instrumental in convincing the New Haven Board of Education to approve funding for the half-time position of the project coordinator for at least the next year.


The project is succeeding. The curriculum2 has been integrated into the school, and the coordinator has been funded. The Advisory Board is in place and meeting regularly. Perhaps most important, the students are learning - they're motivated and interested in agriculture and agribusiness. Extension can have a role in formal education; indeed, it can be argued, we should have.


1. C. Brice Ratchford, "Extension: Unchanging, But Changing," Journal of Extension, XXII (September/October 1984), 8-15.

2. Curriculum guides are available through William Barber, New Haven County Extension Office, 670 Wintergreen Avenue, Hamden, CT 06514.