SYCAMORE – On a recent Monday, students crowded into a classroom at Sycamore High School to learn how to build a small engine.
The laboratory class, part of the school’s agricultural department offerings, gave students a look at the components of a motor and what tools to use to piece it together. The agricultural department at Sycamore High School gives students a chance to learn outside the traditional classroom setting.
“I think there is a stigma around the agricultural name and department, but agriculture is so much more now than what it used to be,” said Kara Poynter, the chairman of the agricultural department at Sycamore high school. “It can be communications, finance, business, and it can be engines, welding and stuff like that.”
In her role, Poynter also oversees the high school’s career and technical education classes for students who might pursue a vocation. The department, she said, allows students to gain hands-on experience by teaching them to apply skills through science, mechanics, technology and horticulture.
In Sycamore High School’s career and technical education program, part of the agriculture department, three teachers oversee about 15 classes, juggling 300 students depending on the semester. The class instruction on building a small engine was part of that curriculum.
Currently, the classes at Sycamore are just for credit, Poynter said. But the experience allows students to grasp tasks they may be asked to do after graduation, whether in careers or in life.
“In our department we have classes that cover science, speech and consumer economics credit,” she said.
For nearly a century, students at Sycamore High School have tackled tactile learning through a variety of ways which offer insight into the importance of non-traditional work, Poynter said. It’s a fitting vocation for many in DeKalb County, who might stem from a more rural background and find familiarity in the work.
“We have our kids who are more interested in agricultural and come from an ag background,” Poynter said. “And then we also have kids who are more CTE [career and technical education] path.”
The program was founded at the high school in 1929, one year after the National Farmers of America was formed. The national organization is a non-profit 501(c)(3) youth organization that’s focused on CTE and agriculture education in middle and high schools.
Poynter’s colleague Christian Thurwanger, teaches most of those CTE classes.
“A lot of the kids in his classes are going into a trade school, or some of them are going right to on-the-job training,” Poynter said.
“Lots of hours,” Thurwanger said as he described overseeing technical education labs during this past semester amid a COVID-19 surge, where the shop class was opened once or twice after school.
“We did construction at home where they built stick houses,” Thurwanger said. “Normally, we do actual walls but we ended up doing those as a makeup activity.”
Connor Wright, a sophomore at the school, said with the experience he’s gained in his shop class, he’s looking forward to exploring trade options once he graduates.
“He’s a younger guy, so it’s easy to hangout around him, very outgoing and makes it a fun class,” Wright said of Thurwanger. “First half of the first quarter we did woodworking, we then moved into electrical and plumping, we did some welding, and now we are into engines.”
For Poynter, having the support of Sycamore district’s administration allowed the program to grow and reach more Spartans.
“We’re lucky, we have a really good board of education, superintendent, and admin support for what we do, which is why I have been able to grow from one person to three,” Poynter said. “They understand the importance to the trades and of the ag program.”