Hancock High’s ag program bearing fruit
Way to go Mr. Mazzone!! He was a Mini-Grant recipient in 2014 & 2015 to help with some of these projects!
Mike Lewis, Feb 14, 2017
HANCOCK — On a recent warm afternoon, a few students were drilling into a maple tree behind Hancock Middle Senior High School to collect sap to make maple syrup.
Nearby, others were putting up a fence that will house chickens.
Around a corner, past another pen and a coop for egg-laying chickens, a few students were inside a shed, wrestling with parts to restore a 1966 Ford 4000 diesel tractor.
Presiding over it all with a big smile was Tom Mazzone, a fourth-year teacher.
Principal Rodney Gayman said the school had no agriculture program before he hired Mazzone.
Since then, Hancock has set up a full-blown curriculum for high schoolers and become just the second middle school in the state to start an ag program.
“He started the program totally from scratch,” Gayman said. “In just three years, we have a very vibrant program. It’s very, very popular with our students and in our community.”
He said that Mazzone has tapped into the Hancock community for ideas, resources and support.
“Traditionally, you would think of FFA as a base of a lot of farmers — dairy farmers, beef farmers, produce farmers. We don’t have a lot of that industry here. At one point, we had a lot of orchards in the region. But agriculture goes so far beyond that now. … In our area we have an awful lot of forestry. Tom is tapping into what we have in or area, the interests that we have in our area, and then making them a part of his program,” Gayman said.
For example, Mazzone obtained a grant to buy an apple press. Students use it in the fall to make cider.
And he used another grant to buy a wood-fired evaporator, which students use to make maple syrup.
Students also build hunting blinds, firewood racks and chicken coops.
Money raised in those efforts is plowed back into the program, Gayman said.
The school recently received another grant — $950 from the Maryland Agriculture Council Inc. — to allow students to raise broiler chicks from egg to oven, providing lessons in anatomy and farming, as well as providing food.
Mazzone, a 26-year-old graduate of the University of Maryland at College Park, said it is important to mix academic study with practical activities.
“I try to incorporate as much as I can hands-on. … ‘Kinesthetic instruction,’ is what they call it,” he said. “If you can incorporate that book learning, somehow, into a hands-on activity, you can almost reach every student. And I guess that’s why I love this atmosphere, this kind of classroom.”
In Mazzone’s classroom sits a freezer, a small engine and what looks like a small workshop, among other items.
Near the window, several fish swim in a bare aquarium, but there are no plants in the tank. The water is pumped outside of the tank and over the roots of plants before it flows back in.
“It gives a great opportunity to talk about symbiotic relationships between the fish and the plants,” the teacher said.
The Ford tractor was donated by an area resident, Mazzone said.
And school and town leaders are working on an agreement that would allow students to use some town-owned land to graze a few cattle.
Mazzone said ideas for his program come “out of my head,” but the inspiration can be traced to another school.
“I had an excellent ag teacher in high school. His name was Dick Weaver at North Carroll High School. He was the only ag teacher I ever had. … He excited me about agriculture. He came to me and asked if I wanted to be involved in FFA. I didn’t grow up on a farm. I didn’t know anything about it. But I gave it a try. I became the vice president,” Mazzone said.
He said most of his students probably won’t grow up to be full-time farmers, but they can put their ag-class experience to use in a variety of ways.
Others, like freshman Trevor Naylor, are looking forward to futures in agriculture. Naylor said he works with his family’s cattle operation now.
“I want to do a lot with the cattle, have my own business to run my own cattle,” he said with a smile. “I just kind of love my cattle.”