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 Jamie Pettit
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From: Tuesday, May 24, 2016 1:29 PM -0400
Subject:SHSM Teaches Important Rural Life Skills
Take a walk through the barn that sits adjacent to Chesley District Community School (CDCS) and you immediately realize that despite its relatively modest square footage, you have stepped into the inner workings of an authentic and professionally run farm operation.  This is the work site that students who are enrolled in the school’s Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) Agriculture program report to on a daily basis for barn chores and other experiential learning tasks that are part and parcel of life on a farm.  

Caring for and raising the animals, which include a small complement of calves, pigs and lambs, teaches the students compassion in addition to the practical side of ensuring healthy livestock for the overall betterment of the farm operation.  A number of other important skills are also cultivated, ranging from planting and crop development to maple syrup production in the recently built sugar shack, which comes equipped with an evaporator donated by the Kinsmen Club of Chesley.     
The success of the 10-year-old program can be attributed in no small measure to the guidance and leadership of teacher Dennis Watson, who just happens to be this year’s recipient of the locally coveted Tommy Cooper Award for his outstanding contributions to agriculture and farm life.  Student interest in his classes has remained steady, resulting in approximately 50 to 60 Red Seal graduates since the program’s inception.  In addition to the fact that CDCS is the only local area school offering an Agriculture SHSM, students are drawn in by the flexibility in completing the four core courses, which include grade 11 Animal Science, grade 11 Horticulture, grade 12 Livestock Production and grade 12 Crop Science.  While many students opt to take the program over a two to three year period, others can complete the courses in a single semester.  The latter option is especially popular among students from other schools in the region who travel to Chesley to take advantage of the program offerings as they work towards meeting the requirements of an Ontario Secondary School Diploma.  Within the CDCS secondary community, at least 50 percent of students take a component of the program, which is an impressive statistic provincially when considering student participation at other Ontario schools that house a similar program.

Elsewhere in Bluewater District School Board, SHSM programs continue to thrive.  At Kincardine District Secondary School, the Construction program prepares students for whatever pathway (workplace, apprenticeship, college or university) they choose to enter after graduation.  The program’s bundle of four main credits includes Construction, Tech Design and Custom Woodworking, along with co-op positions available within these areas.  The school offers several sector specific certification courses to help prepare students for life after secondary school, including Working at Heights, Elevated Work Platform/Boom Training, First Aid (complete with CPR and AED), WHMIS, Construction Health and Safety Training, Chain Saw Training and Actuated Powder Tool Training.  Students explore many different career options through ‘reach ahead’ and experiential learning activities, which include college/university tours, plant tours, Ontario Skills competition tours, guest speakers and on site construction projects within the community.  

These are just two examples of SHSM programming excellence in Bluewater District School Board.  To learn more about the full list of SHSM programs offered, please visit

Image of planting area in front of barn at CDCSImage of barn at CDCS
Image of evaporator in sugar shack at CDCSImage of equipment in sugar shack at CDCS
Image of greenhouse at CDCS Image of lambs in the barn at CDCS
Image of pigs in the barn at CDCSImage of CDCS Agriculture students with teacher Dennis Watson (second from right)
Image of cattle outside the barn at CDCSImage of student engaged in chainsaw training at KDSS
Image of student with propane training heater at KDSSImage of student with propane training torch at KDSS
Image of two students engaged in boom training at KDSS
Image of 3D printed cell phone holder at KDSS