Simulators give ag students hands-on experience

TORRINGTON – When Whit Peterson graduated from Jason Groene’s agriculture education class in 2009, Groene had to demonstrate the intricate muscular, skeletal and organ systems of a cow by drawing them on the board. 

That is, until Bessie, the beef simulator, came into the picture. 

Now in Groene’s and Peterson’s classes, students have lifelike diagrams to reference when they can’t get out to a farm, which is increasingly difficult amid the pandemic and shorter class periods. The simulators, purchased from Realityworks, are funded by Perkins grants, which financially assist career and technical education programs, the first of which came roughly a year ago.

Thanks to a recent grant, students will now have more of these animal science simulators to work with.

“As hard as it is to believe that molten plastic and ballistics jelly is lifelike, these are probably the most lifelike things we have,” Groene said. 

Groene said the ag program has increased in popularity over the past few years. On the first day of school, 176 students were enrolled at Torrington Middle and High Schools, where he teaches and Lingle-Fort Laramie Middle and High Schools, where Peterson teaches.

Ag classes are an elective at Goshen County School District No. 1, one that satisfies the requirement for the career tech education class each student must take before they graduate. Groene said he believes every student should have to take at least one ag class, not only because of the industry’s presence in Goshen County, but also because skills learned apply not only on the farm or ranch, but also in business and other lines of work.

Groene said he estimates one third of his and Peterson’s students are nontraditional ag students, meaning they don’t come from a farm background and are unfamiliar with ag altogether.

“You may not be a rock star in our realm, whether it be agricultural education or FFA, but if you have a minimal understanding of where your food comes from, how we responsibly produce food, that’s our goal,” he said. “If we don’t have a happy consumer, we don’t have anything, because they drive our markets. It’s important for all these kids to know.”

These simulators give students hands on experience that is difficult to provide within a 45 minute class period, Groene said. When classes were longer, they were able to go to farms and ranches to work with animals directly, but now, most of their time would be spent driving to and from these locations.

Cue the calf simulator, which doesn’t look like much, just a brown box with a rope acting as a tail, but it allows students to tag, castrate, and examine external and internal body parts of the animal among other things. 

There are animal science models that open up to show organ systems, muscular systems and skeletal systems of chickens, cats, dogs, horses and cows. 

“We do veterinary science now, we’re just starting to get into that,” Groene said. “And so that gives the kids an opportunity to see those things versus a diagram or my drawings.”

Peterson said his mom, who worked as a college veterinary technician instructor for 25 years, was impressed with the quality of the models available to high school ag students.

“She retired four years ago, they didn’t even have this quality of stuff,” he said.

The next step, Groene said, is a live animal laboratory. Until then, Bessie and the other animal simulators will work just fine.


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