Stephen Lehman, “Ag” teacher at Barrington Middle, is at home in front of the school’s one acre strawberry field. The field was designed by official standards and then the kids took over to plant and harvest the strawberries. “All of our strawberries usually sell out during the pre-sale,” commented Lehman.
Barrington Middle School has been in the Lithia area for only three years, but already has a developed agricultural program that participates in both the Florida State Fair in February and the Strawberry Festival in March.
The students – more than 160 in the Agriculture (“Ag”) class and nearly 100 in the Future Farmers of America (FFA) club – grow food like strawberries and carrots, show animals like pigs and cows and even learn leadership and public speaking skills in FFA.
The agriculture teacher, Mr. Lehman, has been at Barrington since it’s opening to teach the students these important life lessons and others.
Lehman, born in Plant City and raised in Brandon, earned his degree in ‘Citrus’ from Florida Southern University in Lakeland. Lehman was a citrus farmer – like his father and father’s father before him – up until six years ago when he began teaching.
“He’s an incredible teacher,” commented Carmine Rupert, who works with data processing in the front office. “He’s an incredible teacher, but he’s an incredible man. He thinks of everyone else,” she continued.
Lehman was awarded Teacher of the Year in late November by teacher vote. “It’s not because I’m the best classroom teacher,” commented Lehman, “but I do work a lot and put in a lot of hours.” Lehman said he enjoys the weekends, but he always looks forward to work on Mondays. “I get excited when students get excited about agriculture,” he reflected.
According to Lehman, there are three parts to Ag: classroom instruction, the outside ‘land lab’ and FFA. Lehman said that hands-on instruction in the land lab helps the students learn and remember more. “It’s cool when they learn what a beet looks like or where a carrot comes from. We pulled turnips the other day and you’d think they discovered gold!” Lehman joked.
When the Florida State Fair rolls around in February, Lehman takes several students with him to show animals and volunteer for a program run by the Farm Bureau called “Ag Venture.” Ag Venture teaches mainly elementary school kids about Florida agriculture and the importance of nutrients through games and activities. Barrington is one of only a few middle schools that help host the event.
Lehman’s favorite part about the fair, though, is the contests. Students prepare with Lehman before and after school several days out of the week, to be judged in areas such as livestock, meat, citrus and public speaking. “The kids take it and run with it,” said Lehman. “I just put it in front of them.”
Barrington has been one of the top five schools in the past, scoring second in vegetable judging and third in citrus and livestock out of 50 schools state-wide.
To learn more about FFA, visit the national Website at www.ffa.com or www.flaffa.org for the state. Also don’t forget to support your local FFA clubs at the Florida State Fair and Strawberry Festival this year.