Calallen school officials say the high school agriculture program has been so successful that they have expanded it to the middle school.

Calallen initiated a vocational agriculture program in 1959, consisting of classes in welding, mechanics and basic animal sciences.

Since then, the department has grown and expanded into what is now the Academy of Industrial and Agricultural Sciences with about 320 students per year. The agricultural science department maintains a five-acre farm and a 25-by-65-foot greenhouse with 90 different plant species.

During the summer, the middle school developed the agricultural curriculum for sixth-, seventh- and eighth grade students, said Cheryl Gillenwater, career and technology education specialist for Calallen schools.

Currently, 98 middle school students are enrolled in the new middle school agricultural program.

Sixth-grade students are able to select the elective of Introductory Horticulture. The class explores horticulture to its fullest extent and studies the different job opportunities available within horticulture.

For example, floriculture will be experienced by making mums for homecoming and by making different floral craft projects throughout the year. Students also learn about gardening by planting seeds, transplanting and propagation, with a plant sale planned at the end of the school year.

In addition to the classroom instruction, the sixth-grade students are eligible to join Future Farmers of Americas as a junior member, allowing them to participate in all FAA functions and raise an animal for the Nueces County Junior Livestock Show, if they desire.

Seventh-grade Calallen students are able to select Introductory Agriculture Mechanics as an elective. The class explores different vocational opportunities while students study shop safety and tools, woodworking, electrical, welding, plumbing and small engine repair. The students will complete a small project to take home at the end of each component.

In addition to the classroom instruction, seventh-grade students are eligible to join the FFA and participate in all FFA functions, show an animal, earn the Discovery FFA degree, purchase a FFA jacket, participate in Career Development events in the spring, and enter the Agriscience Fair.

Eighth-grade students are able to select Agriculture 101/102 as their elective. Students will receive high school credit upon successful completion of the course and approval by the instructor.

The class explores the entire agricultural field, including FFA, parliamentary procedure, career investigation, horticulture and agriculture mechanics.

Outside the classroom, the eighth-grade students are able to join FFA and participate in all FFA functions. They are also able to compete in Leadership and Career Development events, earn the Greenhand FFA degree, purchase a FFA jacket, show an animal, and enter the Agriscience Fair.

"Joining the FAA and raising an animal are not mandatory to enroll in the classes, but will enhance what is being taught in the classroom," Gillenwater said.

Greenhands are also eligible to attend FFA camps, leadership conventions, and explore all the opportunities that the high school agriculture program offers.

"The leadership skills obtained by being involved in the FFA will help the student with employment skills later in life," said Tracy Kalka, a Calallen Middle School agriculture teacher. "Memories created by making new friends, raising an animal and all of the camps and conventions will last forever."