Richard McPherson, Rio Rico High School, Rio Rico, Arizona
The four-year Agriculture program at Rio Rico High School is rigorous and expansive, led by Richard McPherson. McPherson says that he recognizes and respects that the agriculture field has many ways to harm a student in everyday activities expected of them, which is why he takes safety seriously each and every day.
“One mishap, mistake, or accident and a student or more can lose their life or get injured.” McPherson explained. “The students are in dangerous situations throughout the four year program and knowing how to learn and work in those environments is an important part of the curriculum here.”
The curriculum includes plant and animal science with laboratory activities in bio-security, sanitation, nutrition, environmental controls, husbandry, livestock and produce harvesting techniques. The program also includes agriculture building systems which expands into hand and power tools, tractors, construction and fabrication, welding and cutting, plumbing and other topics that are a part of the daily routine for a student in the program.
Because of the extensive hands-on learning and activities, McPherson requires that his students possess and maintain advanced safety knowledge and training, including OSHA 10-Hour General Industry (Agriculture) training.
“The OSHA credential is the capstone of their senior year.” McPherson said. “They’ve been exposed to all the risk around the labs and farm and have gone through all the safety training but have not received the credit until that time. They complete the course in class as they begin to apply for scholarships and job applications.”
Each year, all returning students must begin the school year with a refresher safety unit that covers hand tools, power tools, fire safety, tractor operations, PPE, welding and cutting, food safety, and snake awareness and safety. Students must retake safety exams and their safety training records are updated before they’re allowed to work on or taught new material. Credentialing opportunities provide McPherson’s students the ability to show employers that they have extensive knowledge in various skill sets.
Over the last four years, the program has logged over 35,000 student service hours on projects. Last year, McPherson and his students took on the project of building a 400 sq. ft. chicken coop, which included working through the school district’s system through design, engineering, planning and zoning, floodplain management, and Arizona Department of Environmental Quality before it could go through budgeting and procurement. Their crop field and tomato hydroponic house donates 10 tons of produce annually and up to 50 dozen eggs per week to local food banks. Even on Saturdays one can find students at farmers’ markets selling their eggs, produce and house plants to the community while simultaneously instructing them on water conservation. Students have designed, built and planted raised garden beds at a local preschool and landscaped the school district’s elementary schools.
This coming year, McPherson hopes to come away with 10,000 more accident-free student hours while they repair and maintain their facility and commissioning their aquaponic facility, in which they will raise 4,000 tilapia and 419 strawberry plants as well as plant Gala apple trees and install 4,000 feet of irrigation.
“I have a philosophy that students will eat more nutritious foods if they know where their food comes from and that there is dignity in all work, but our biggest accomplishment of our program is 35,000 student hours that are accident-free simulating real world work environments including heat, cold, wet, dry, dusty, stress, and frustration,” McPherson said.