IWCS Land Lab wins statewide award

Published 7:36 pm Monday, July 24, 2023

Isle of Wight County Schools was recognized with an Excellence in Workforce Readiness Award through the Virginia School Boards Association.

The awards program was created in 2018 by the VSBA Task Force on Workforce Readiness to “highlight exemplary programs in Virginia’s Public Schools focused on preparing the state’s future workforce.”

IWCS was announced as the first-place winner in school divisions with student populations between 5,001 and 10,000.  

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The division’s entry, “IWCS Agricultural Land Lab:  Cultivating the Next Generation of Farmers,” highlights the Agricultural Land Lab, a working farm on property behind Windsor Elementary School that provides students in agriculture an authentic experience on the elements of plant and animal science.  Students transformed six acres of uncut grass to fenced pastures, a vegetable garden and housing for animals, and a classroom building and barn were constructed to house the program.  

Classes offered at the Land Lab are double-blocked, half-day courses available to students at both Windsor and Smithfield high schools. 

“The program sparks a passion in the students for agriculture and gives them an appreciation for careers in agriculture, whether as growers and producers, or in roles that directly support agricultural ventures,” said Isle of Wight County School Board Chair John Collick.  “We are excited to receive this award, which acknowledges the division’s involvement in strengthening the workforce of the commonwealth.” 

As part of the award application, IWCS noted the Land Lab is not an ordinary agriculture program. It is the only one of its kind in the Hampton Roads region, and only one of several in Virginia.  

“The key element that sets it apart from other agriculture programs is its authenticity,” the school division said in a news release.  ” Creating meaningful, relevant work is an integral component throughout the curriculum. Students actively engage in running and maintaining a working farm for three hours of their school day, five days a week, with guidance from an agriculture teacher and a farm manager. Students continue to shape the program as they develop fresh new ideas and innovative ways to increase productivity and create a successful operation for years to come. Third-year students serve as informal teachers, sharing their knowledge with underclassmen and becoming managers and supervisors to their peers. The success of the program and its unique format have made the IWCS Agricultural Land Lab a model program throughout the commonwealth. “

The application emphasized the support of community, business and industry for the program’s success Numerous partners, including area farmers, the Isle of Wight County’s Economic Development office, local businesses and state agencies, play an important role in the ongoing growth and development of the Land Lab. Industry representatives regularly attend Career and Technical Education Advisory Board meetings, host interns, facilitate job-shadowing opportunities, fund initiatives and partner with the Land Lab to increase hands-on, real-world learning experiences for students. 

“The authenticity of our agriculture program provides students with the skills, certifications, and work-based learning opportunities that translate directly to high-demand, high-wage jobs after graduation from high school,” said IWCS Superintendent Theo Cramer. “We are honored to be recognized by the VSBA for our contribution to developing workforce-ready students.”