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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU Extension Enhancing High School Ag Program

FORT WINGATE, N.M. -- In a dusty corral near Gallup, N.M., a group of Navajo, Zuni and Mescalero Apache teenagers gathers around a horse to name the various parts of the saddle for their teacher. The students attend Wingate High School, the largest, private Native American boarding school in the nation.

Jerry Faver, their agriculture teacher, is able to use horses and cattle from the school's 6,000-acre ranch as "visual aids" in each of his classes. When Faver needs additional information, teaching materials or a guest instructor, he calls Clifford Gunn of New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service in McKinley County.

"Through Extension, Clifford has a lot of information about topics like livestock diseases, cattle breeds and the proper ways to handle livestock," Faver said. "He also provides videos, which help a lot because kids enjoy television and tend to do well with educational videos."

About 700 students who come from various tribes across the country live at the school. Those studying agriculture have enjoyed Gunn's visits and demonstrations.

"Clifford's a really good horseshoer," Faver said. "He's come out here a time or two and properly shown the students how to trim a horse's feet. Demonstrations like that are a valuable asset to our program."

Eighteen-year-old Valjean Price of Window Rock, Arizona, is one of Faver's students. When she's not in a classroom, Price and other students tend livestock and perform other ranch tasks as part of school's agricultural program.

"We check the pens and the cattle to see that they have enough water," Price said. "Then we go around the ranch in a truck to check the fencing and see if any cattle have gotten out."

Under Faver's supervision and through Gunn's demonstrations, Price quickly found out the vast amount of work involved in raising cattle. "It's a daily job," she said. "You have to be really careful when taking care of livestock. You have to really watch them, individually and as a group."

The hours that Price spends working on the school ranch are adding up. Every student who volunteers for 100 hours of ranch work qualifies for a calf at the end of the year. Price hopes to win a purebred Limousine bull when she graduates next spring.

"I want to take it back home to Window Rock and breed it with my family's cattle herd for better weights and higher profits," she said. For Gunn, teaching a single agricultural skill like horseshoeing is not enough to help a child. Gunn believes children here will leave the school with a combination of life skills.

"They learn something about record keeping and various types of markets for livestock," Gunn said. "But they also learn that there's more to life than just taking your livestock or other agricultural products to the local trader in town."