They’re basic facts: everybody eats, and food comes from farms. But despite the vital role agriculture plays in our lives, there is a dearth of young farmers. With the average age of farmers in the United States now 57.5, there is an urgent need for a new generation to step up. In South Florida, the microschool Colossal Academy is using agriculture to cultivate the next generation of leaders, entrepreneurs, and farmers.
The 20 students, aged 10-14, spend three days a week on a farm, utilizing a yurt to learn farming, cooking, and technological skills in addition to core academic skills. They spend two days learning online. For 2022-23, the program will also offer an option for in-person learning five days a week. “We know that the future includes the hybrid between agriculture and technology,” said Shiren Rattigan, the founder and teacher at Colossal Academy and mom of three.
After a decade of teaching in public and private schools, Rattigan decided to build something better and reignite students’ love of learning. “There was no other alternative,” she said. “Either I leave education, or I try to create my own space.”
And it seems like her model is working. As part of the state funding that Colossal Academy receives, students there take assessments to gauge their progress. In the 2021-22 school year, the students’ growth was remarkable. “My students have increased in their achievement scores and most students have increased two grade levels. I know that they are also learning so much of the softer skills and life skills,” she said.
“Normal schools have so many students in one class, but Ms. Shiren can really connect with all of us and the environment is just completely different from the schools I’ve been to before,” said Julian Aldave, a student at Colossal Academy.
“Since he started, it’s like his brain’s expanded so much that he’s full of knowledge and ready to bring it to the world… I see a ton of opportunities, something where he can make an impact to humanity,” adds his mother, Mariella Aldave.
And thanks to the 2022 Next Step grant that Colossal Academy is receiving, the program will continue to grow. Colossal Academy expects to serve more than 40 students in 2022-23 and expand its course offerings, in part through partnerships with fellow VELA grant recipients like Surf Skate Science.