Taking advantage of open-air classrooms

By Mark Gunderman

Sometimes safe social distancing is easy – like when the classroom spans 145 acres.

Earlier this summer, nine Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) agronomy management students gathered in a field on the east side of Menomonie, where instructors had previously planted corn, soybeans and oats to do what they call “crop scouting.”

“We’re looking at growth stages and checking to see the health of the crops,” said Jake Ingli. “We’ll do yield evaluations later in the year and try to identify insects that might become a problem.”

On this summer day, the corn was looking a little brown along the edges of the young plants, which Ingli said was an expected temporary condition called nitrogen burn, as they had recently spread a nitrogen fertilizer.

“This is a great way to get out of the classroom and into the field,” Ingli said. “When the pandemic happened, we were already done with our eight-week classes, but we weren’t able to get out in the field and plant. We’re getting the chance to get outside now.”

“Right around spring break, I knew everything was going to change,” Brent Christianson, agronomy management instructor, said. “Our schedule was the biggest thing. Students were supposed to move to truck driving to earn their commercial drivers licenses, but we had to delay that. They started that June 1.”

Instructors had to do the planting, but as the crops sprouted, students could hit the fields once again. Everyone had masks ready when needed, but there’s a lot of room out there.

“On a 145-acre field, it’s pretty easy to maintain social distancing,” Christianson said. “The only thing that’s changed now is instead of going back to campus to do reports, they do that from home.”

By mid-July the crops were looking fantastic, Christianson said, with corn tasseling, the oats within about three weeks of harvesting and the soybeans going strong.

RC Jensen doesn’t need 145 acres when his gas utility service and construction students head outside to learn about the digging and installing of lines that is a major part of the instruction. But the open area near the Fire Safety Center on the West Campus has plenty of room for his 11 students.

“The day my students finished the program, on March 13, I was told that things were going to be changing, but by then all my students were gone,” Jensen said. The program starts in the summer, so Jensen had some time to prepare for a new normal.

“We’re maintaining social distancing as much as we can when we’re outside in the lab,” Jensen said. “One of the biggest things we deal with is safety. It includes everything, including how you bend over to pick something up.”

Jensen explained he has adapted instruction to the students’ benefit.

“They’re getting even more hands-on because I am teaching the theories when we’re out in the field instead of in the classroom. When we are within six feet of physical distance, we do this,” Jensen said, pulling his mask from around his neck up to cover his face.

Student Angela Scholtz loves the program.

“I had been working at hotel, but got laid off because of COVID-19,” she said.” I thought this was right up my alley. “They’re doing everything they can to keep us safe, and I love being outside.”

There’s more to the story! Read the full article here

Mark Gunderman

is a communications specialist with Chippewa Valley Technical College in Wisconsin.