Bridgehampton School Grows Options for Graduates

The founding members of the Bridgehampton School’s FFA Club are, from left, club vice president Ashanti Webley, Amoy Webley, club president Jonny DeGroot, Alex Ramirez, reporter and historian Nat DePasquale and sentry Julian Pesce. Christine Sampson photo

The seeds of the edible school garden movement on the East End were essentially planted at the Bridgehampton School, which began with a greenhouse and garden about a decade ago. Since then, the emphasis on agriculture has only grown at Bridgehampton, which launched a farmstand, “Sprouts,” last year. Soon, Bridgehampton students may be able to graduate with a special New York State high school diploma designation in one of four “pathways,” including agribusiness, plant science, natural resource systems and food processing systems.

This special designation could be earned in addition to others, such as the advanced Regents diploma designation that students can achieve for earning certain grades on state exams, or it could boost a student’s local diploma with a career and technical education (CTE) credential.

Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz, one of the teachers who led the way to New York State’s recent approval of the proposed Bridgehampton program, said it makes so much sense for the school.

“Why now and why Bridgehampton? We have the professional resources,” she said. “We looked at what we have on campus already between our teachers, infrastructure, greenhouse and Sprouts. We have a need to address career and college readiness. We have the partnerships in the community and with colleges and universities. Since we are expanding, this is a perfect time to develop a vision that would grow along with the building.”

The Bridgehampton School Board was poised to give the program its own stamp of approval Wednesday night.

“Agribusiness” centers on the entrepreneurship of agriculture, while the “plant systems” track focuses on horticulture and landscaping. The “natural resource systems” pathway is largely about environmental science, while “food processing systems” is about food production and culinary arts.

Students will need to earn 3.5 credits in one of those four tracks to achieve the agricultural CTE designation on their diplomas. There’s a prerequisite class to take first, a “foundational” class that gives students a preview of all four pathways, before students take three full-year courses and one half-year course in their preferred field. Students will also be required to take a final exam, complete a “supervised work experience” — basically, an internship with a local business — and join the school’s FFA Club, which encourages leadership and character development skills.

Ms. Carmack-Fayyaz said the CTE program ties together many classes that were already being taught at the school, such as botany, agribusiness, landscape design, nutrition and many more, in a meaningful way.

“Basically, our whole focus with developing this program was we should discuss what our students are graduating to instead of just getting them to graduate. What are we preparing them for?” she said. “We had been talking about career and college readiness for years, particularly because a lot of students struggle after they leave here. This program is all about transition so that when they graduate, they are aware of their interests and where they want to go. They have developed technical skills, they have employability skills.”

Ken Giosi, another Bridgehampton teacher who is helping to launch the program, called it an “out-of-the-box” program that breaks down walls that separate school from the real world. He said the program is targeted at every student.

“What a lot of people think of when they think of occupational studies or career studies is that this is for the kids who aren’t going to college or who aren’t high-performing kids, but this is absolutely for all kids,” Mr. Giosi said. “You have to be a well-rounded individual to survive these days. You cannot just have a high grade-point average and expect to succeed.”

Superintendent Robert Hauser said a dynamic team of teachers, guidance counselors, administrators and staff are working together to make the program happen in September, which is especially challenge given “a building that’s already maxed out” in terms of space. The program also has a financial impact, including the anticipated hiring of one new teacher.

“I’m excited about it. I think it will benefit many students,” Mr. Hauser said, noting the internship makes the program particularly attractive. “You’re not just graduating with credits and knowledge. Here you have experience.”

The state’s approval of Bridgehampton’s agricultural CTE program comes during a time when school districts are being encouraged by state officials to share programs, resources and services. Ms. Carmack-Fayyaz said it’s possible that other schools could send students to Bridgehampton specifically for this program.

The Bridgehampton School District is not the only local district to consider some type of in-house CTE program. The East Hampton School District, in its bid to build its own transportation maintenance and parking depot, has talked about setting up an automotive education program at that facility after it is built. The project, slated for the former scavenger waste site on Springs Fireplace Road in East Hampton, is still in the planning phases.

Jonny DeGroot, a Bridgehampton School junior who is president of the newly-formed FFA Club, said even though it’s too late for him to formally pursue the agricultural diploma designation, he would highly recommend it to younger students.

“It’s a great thing to have to go into the workforce with, and a great education,” he said. “I would definitely encourage starting as young as possible they should start on the CTE path, or even if they don’t want the CTE path, they should take some agricultural classes. If you go back in human history, it’s the most important thing.”