It’s a new opportunity for Junior and Senior High School students at Byron-Bergen. This past fall, their High School science program garnered a $25,000 America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education Grant. On Friday, January 4, 2019, Agriculture Teacher Jeffrey Parnapy, a Cornell A graduate, received a much-anticipated delivery: five modest shipping boxes contained $25,000 worth of state-of-the-art equipment to support the agriculture, biology, chemistry, and physics programs. For Parnapy, who wrote the grant proposal in collaboration with his science colleagues Michael Conine, Briana DelVecchio, Jenifer Faro, Peter Spence, and Terry Vick, it was a dream come true. "My colleagues and I are ready to implement these new tools directly into our coursework," said Parnapy. "We have been anticipating the arrival and it's very exciting to be able to bring a new level of technology to our students."
             Jeff Parnapy could not be more please to see the agriculture classes making a comeback at Byron-Bergen. “Next fall will be only the second year in which we have offered agriculture classes since the 1970s,” said Parnapy. Byron-Bergen is going a reboot of agricultural education that is happening in many other districts, as well. “Pavilion, Oakfield-Alabama; there is a resurgence.” Parnapy had taught agriculture at the secondary level for several years before taking a position teaching other science classes at Byron-Bergen in the Fall of 2000. It wasn’t until 2018; however, that he was asked to teach an Introduction to Agriculture class thanks to his certification in Agricultural Education. “I think people are realizing that we need young people with an interest in agriculture, young people who will go into this business,” said Parnapy. “Everyone needs to eat!”
             Parnapy went on to share why he believes agricultural education is so important for today’s youth, whether they enter the field or not. “We all must realize that each and every one of us is going to be a consumer of agricultural products. If we are going to raise smart consumers, then we have to make sure they understand the whole production to supply chain of agriculture. We also are all citizens as are the children we are instructing, so we have to educate ourselves and our children about agriculture and our food system so that we are all more informed when we vote.” Parnapy clarified that since those for whom we vote are responsible for making agricultural policy decision for us on such issues as conservancy and Right to Farm, it is important to educate future generations about agriculture so that they will understand how these decisions will affect them.
          Byron-Bergen students certainly will have the opportunity to learn more than ever before with all of the items they received. The complete list of new equipment includes: 13 Lab Quest interfaces, 1 anemometer, 1 barometer, 12 CO2 gas sensors, 9 conductivity sensors, 12 dual range force sensors, 5 dissolved oxygen probes, 4 flow rate sensors, 10 energy sensors, 12 infrared thermometers, 12 motion detectors, 24 pH sensors, 1 sound level meter, 24 temperature probes, 4 drop counters, 12 photogates, 3 spectrophotometers, and 4 Lab Quest interface charging stations. “Just being able to have the kids handle tech that is different from what they have been exposed to before is so important,” says Parnapy. “When they graduate and further their education or training, and they are presented with a new piece of equipment, at least they are likely to have some idea of what it is, what it does and where to start.”
             While this is a field specific skill, Jeff Parnapy states that it is also import for young people to learn to value the expensive technology, that individual items can costs hundreds of dollars and were earned through the grant writing efforts and perseverance of their teachers. Therefore, the equipment should be cared for and respected. “Things do not just show up,” he says. “Kids are walking around with expensive tech (like cellphones) and sometimes, do not understand that it is costly to replace these things. We are not just teaching skills, but a mindset, as well, for how young people have to be for things to work out when they enter into a career. This includes both hard and soft skills.” Parnapy explains that teaching these skills, much like the equipment received extend beyond Byron-Bergen’s Agriculture classes.
             “I envisioned all the science faculty using this equipment, because I see us all as a team here. I knew if I was going to write a grant, a lot of people should be able to benefit from it. I needed this equipment, such as the Lab Quest II interfaces, for the Agriculture curriculum which I was going to teach, and other science classes would need to benefit, as well, for a grant to be approved; 7th-12th in our case. So, when I was going through and writing this grant, I made sure I talked to all the science teachers, asking what it is they could use that we could include in this grant. When I started totaling up all their students needed with what my students needed, I thought, well I guess we will apply for $25,000!” said Parnapy. He further explained that all the equipment is multifunctional, able to measure various things such as Oxygen, CO2, wind speed and infrared. “For example,” Parnapy continued. “A 7th grade student could measure temperature and PH. An 8th grade student could work with physics and motion.”
          When looking to the future, Jeff Parnapy is optimist and already sees progress and enthusiasm. “Agriculture was our most subscribed elective last year,” he enthused. “Last year, we had one section. This year, we have two. Next year, we will not only have Introduction to Agriculture but also an Animal Science class.” Parnapy describes the upcoming Animal Science elective as a “good starter” for someone who thinks they may be interested but is not yet ready to commit to a BOCES level class. “Another thing I am really excited about is that we are going to continue to build strong leaders for the future. That is why there are FFA (Future Farmers of America) chapters like the one I advise here.,” says Parnapy. “We practice parliamentary procedure, employment skills, public speaking and leadership and career development. We also do agriculturally relevant fundraisers. For example, we will be having a strawberry sale in the middle of March. We also go camping, gain a deeper appreciation for nature and just have fun. We are so grateful for this amazing new equipment which will allow our students to take their passion even further.”
             This project was made possible by local farmers and America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education, sponsored by the Monsanto Fund. The America’s Farmers campaign highlights the importance of modern US Agriculture through communications and community outreach programs that partner with farmers to impact rural America. To learn more, visit America’s Farmers at
The Monsanto Fund, the philanthropic arm of the Monsanto Company, is a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening farm communities and the communities where Monsanto employees live and work.
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