City students learn country lessons

Hanging out with friends at the arcade, sleeping in on Saturdays and blowin' off steam at the mall is a world away from rising with the sun to drive a tractor, spending week days and weekends branding cattle and using your downtime to string fence.

The differences between city life and country life are vast, as 33 Lakewood high school students spent the last 10 days learning.

Bear Creek High School offers a "senior field studies class," a portion of which shows students the realities of life on a ranch in an effort to make them understand and appreciate the agriculture industry.

It's a hands on experience. The students spend 10 days with a "rural" family as part of the class.

"The kids really learn a lot by going out and experiencing rural life and agriculture," said Patty Kenny, director of office services for the Colorado Farm Bureau, the program's sponsor. "They learn more by doing it first hand than they would by watching a film in the classroom."

Two students were placed with families in Moffat County.

Eli Hunt, 18, is the fifth student Randy and Becky Menge have hosted through the program.

"We do it to give kids from the city the opportunity to experience ranch life," Becky said. "We teach them what it's like to live on a ranch."

Hunt spent the last 10 days branding and vaccinating calves, building fences, repairing equipment and driving a tractor.

"We try to show them what it takes to run a ranch -- what it's like to work," Becky said. "They always marvel that we live in what my kids call 'the middle of nowhere,' with no houses around."

That's exactly what Hunt loves about the experience.

"I love it out here," he said. "Its wide open spaces, no hassle of the city, no traffic. It's nice and quiet."

Branding and vaccinating cattle has been one of his favorite parts of the experience, but it's nothing like the movies, he said.

Hunt said he's not a morning person, so rising early to work hasn't been one of the things he'll remember fondly.

Visiting students go rock hunting and antler hunting, Becky said, and are always amused when the Menge's show them their children's school in Baggs.

"The get a kick out of the fact that the whole school is in one building," Becky said.

Not only are the Menge's teaching Hunt the practicalities of life on a ranch, they teach him the reasons behind those actions.

Hunt's learned that a career in agriculture may be something he'll pursue.

"I've always thought about being a farmer," he said. "Now, after doing this I found out I actually like it. When I go on to college, I'll take a class in agriculture and maybe go on to work in agriculture.

It's a learning experience, but it's not a vacation. The rural portion of the program is sponsored by the Colorado Farm Bureau Women's Committee.

"Senior field studies is a program we have sponsored for many

years to help educate students about agriculture and to help them learn about the world outside their environment," said Angela Ryden, committee chairwoman.

Each student must raise $800 to be part of the semester-long course. Aside from the rural experience, student study urban, suburban and wilderness areas, explore career opportunities, participate in community service activities and go backpacking in the desert. The students' next stop is Dinosaur National Monument where they will white water raft down the Green River.

Kenny said many students report they liked the rural experience best.

"A lot of the students do find this part their favorite part of the class, mostly because of the family experience. It's a lot different than what they're used to," she said.

The program benefits the agriculture industry as well as the students.

"It really broadens their minds about agriculture," Kenny said. "The students say they will really think about farming and agriculture before they vote and make decisions that will affect (producers') future."

Hunt said he had an opportunity to speak to Lakewood sophomores about the class and encouraged them to sign up.

"Everyone should take this class," he said. "I'm getting class credit for driving a tractor, for actually going out and doing something instead of staying in a classroom."

In addition to the agricultural lessons, Hunt is experiencing family as he never has before.

"Family life here seem like they always work together," he said. "At my house, everybody pretty much does their own thing. Here, it's pretty much a team effort."

Randy said the program, along with giving students a rural experience, also gives them a work ethic.

"We've had really good kids in the past, but some don't know what work is. They think that working is punishment," he said. "It's a good education for them because when they do go out in the job market, that's what employers will expect of them."

The students are evaluated by their host family after the experience is finished.

One stumbling block the program faced this year was a lack of host families for the students. Menge encourages area farm and ranch families to consider taking a student in for the 10-day experience. He said interim alternatives can be found even if that family has a two- or three-day conflict during the time.

Anyone interested in being a host family next year can call Kenny at (303) 749-7506.

Christina M. Currie can be reached by calling 824-7031, Ext. 210 or by e-mail at ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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