Public schools have prize-winning in the (Show)bag

Students and teachers from across the state embraced every opportunity at the Royal Easter Show.

Staff and students in a line with some cattle nearby. Staff and students in a line with some cattle nearby.
Image: NSW Department of Education Secretary Murat Dizdar was on hand to present the The Royal Agricultural Society Foundation Innovation in Schools Award to Strathfield South High School at this year's Royal Easter Show. Mr Dizdar is pictured at the show with staff and students from Narooma High School.

An inner-city school has shown location is no barrier to embracing a life on the land after winning a prestigious education award at the Royal Easter Show.

Strathfield South High School was presented with The Royal Agricultural Society Foundation Innovation in Schools Award for its agricultural program, which includes a school farm and outdoor ‘living laboratory’.

The award, which was presented by NSW Department of Education Secretary Murat Dizdar, comes with $10,000 to expand the school’s agricultural program and second farm.

The Royal Agricultural Society’s (RAS) head of education, Duncan Kendall, said Strathfield South High School was the “epitome of inspirational agricultural innovators”.

“They started an agricultural program for the first time in the school’s 60-year history, based in a heavily urbanised part of metropolitan Sydney, where 80 per cent of students come from a non-English-speaking background,” he said.

“Despite these factors that usually detract from growing an agricultural program, over the first two years the school had a 75 per cent increase in agriculture enrolments.

Principal Brad Cook was full of praise for the two teachers - Adam Sharp and Christina Hatchman - who set up the school’s first agriculture program just two years ago.

“I’m extremely proud of the staff who’ve put in a big effort,” he said.

“Our community are excited about agriculture at the school as many of the families has small vegetable gardens.

“The opportunity for their children to study and experience growing vegetables and keeping chickens is important for them as it continues the connection with nature and culture.”

Mr Sharp said it was a coup to have a metropolitan school selected for the award and showed agriculture was multi-faceted.

“It’s a different sort of agriculture than what our regional schools are doing,” Mr Sharp said.

“It really means a lot, especially for a public school to be chosen. It’s so gratifying.”

Staff and students with some cattle nearby. Staff and students with some cattle nearby.
Image: Mr Dizdar speaks with staff and students from Braidwood Central School.

Best in class

Among the show bags, death-defying rides and displays, NSW’s public schools proved they were best in class across multiple competitions.

Mr Dizdar, who spent a day visiting competing schools and teachers, said he was impressed to see the breadth of entries by public schools.

“It was an absolute delight to talk to students who are obviously so passionate about competing at shows and are getting real-life experience of what working in agricultural industries will entail,” Mr Dizdar said.

“I am also mindful of the incredible dedication by the school staff who give up so much of their free time to support their students and want to thank them for their commitment to opening up opportunities for our students.”

Mr Kendall said schools participated in almost every competitive category.

“Students and teachers taking part in the show are taking new skills, contacts and ideas back to their local communities, creating a positive cycle of growth and development for our agricultural industries,” he said.

Dennis Wilson, Patron of the RAS Foundation, which provides scholarships and community grants, said education was key to the future of Australian agriculture.

“It is no longer enough to inherit the family farm and run it like your family used to,” he said.

“You need to understand the science and the economics of agriculture too. That’s why education is so important.”

Staff and students in a line with some cattle nearby. Staff and students in a line with some cattle nearby.
Image: Mr Dizdar with Scone High ag teacher Justin Newling and students from the school.

A 40-year collaboration

Scone High School students have been competing at the Royal Easter Show since 1986, showing purebred Angus cattle from the ‘Main Camp’ stud in an ongoing 40-year partnership.

Students are encouraged and inspired by ag teacher, Justin Newling, a former Scone High dux and now teacher at his alma mater.

Mr Newling has worked hard to make the show experience a success, and the pride on their faces when Mr Dizdar met with them showed it had paid off.

“It’s been long and tiring, but good,” student Archie said of showing Moose, who placed fifth in his class of 40 steers, the largest class of cattle that they have ever had at the Easter Show.

Moose was also selected in the Angus Stan Hill Team. This means he was judged to be one of the top three Angus steers at the show.

Mr Newling said preparing for the show was a great way for students to make connections with members of the agricultural community.

“It allows students to put into practise the theoretical concepts learned in the classroom,” he said.

“It gives our students the chance to challenge themselves and exhibit the cattle they prepared at the highest level.”

A split image of a man with a pig, and a girl leading a cow around a ring. A split image of a man with a pig, and a girl leading a cow around a ring.
Image: Left: Brisbane Water Secondary College ag teacher Richard Mckay with 'Jasper' the Berkshire pig. Right: A student leads Scone High School Angus steer 'Moose' around the ring.

Jasper's the biggest and the best

The cream of the cow and pig crop were paraded by students from various NSW public schools across the Royal Easter Show.

Jasper, the Berkshire pig raised by students from Brisbane Water Secondary College (BWSC), beat every other hopeful hog at the show - in every possible category - to earn the coveted title of ‘Best Pig Overall’.

BWSC agriculture teacher Richard Mckay said the show was a great reminder to students of the important role agriculture plays in society.

“For us, working with animals is a stepping stone to a wide range of career paths,” he said.

“The educational benefit for students in taking care of animals is immense.

“By looking after animals, like our winning Berkshire pig Jasper, the kids learn various important skills in handling animals, fencing, marketing, food quality and meat sciences for instance.

“They can then tap into these careers at a high level when they finish school."

Another BWSC entry was so immense, a special competition was run for all visitors to the show to guess its colossal weight.

“The students raised our prize-winner Jasper at school over the past 18 months,” Mr Mckay said.

“We teach the kids to identify what piglets will make good long-term breeders and which ones are better suited to go to market.”

Chifley College Shalvey Campus (CCSC) marked 25 years of working with Belted Galloway cows with a stud bull winning the title of ‘Grand Champion Bull’.

Relieving Principal Karen Attard said participating in the Easter Show had impacts well beyond the farm gate.

“It provides students with invaluable opportunities for personal growth, skill development, and allows them to showcase their talents on a broader platform,” she said.

“We are proud to support their participation knowing that it fosters confidence, resilience, and a strong sense of achievement.”

Students at the college maintain a steady school attendance rating of 85 per cent and Ms Attard said the 2024 show team had an average attendance rate of 92 per cent.

“We’re thrilled to see how our involvement in agricultural programs has not only enriched our curriculum but also contributed to a significant boost in attendance among our students,” she said.

“It's fantastic to witness the excitement and engagement that hands-on agricultural experiences bring to our school community”.

Staff and students in a line with some cattle. Staff and students in a line with some cattle.
Image: Students and staff from Chifley College Shalvey Campus with some of their cattle.

A networking opportunity

Armidale Secondary College was a big winner at the show, securing five first-place ribbons in the cattle and pig competitions, including two champions in the cattle section.

Year 9 student Brittany Tarrant presented the champion steer that won the middleweight section, while Clare Kelly was awarded the 2024 Sydney Royal Show Champion Beef Cattle Schools Parader.

The school also won first and third prizes for its Berkshire pigs, as well as Best School Pig Pen Display.

College learning support officer, camp ‘mum’ and former student, Grace Collins, was named the 2024 RM Williams RAS Rural Achiever at this year’s show.

The 21-year-old is studying a Bachelor of Agriculture at the University of New England and has plans to gain a Master of Education to become a high school agriculture teacher.

College ag teacher Mark FIsher said for many of students attending the show, the event was an opportunity to learn more about a career in the industry.

“A lot of industry people are here,” he said.

“Networking and looking at future career prospects and meeting the right people is all part of it.”

Year 12 student Felicity Bailey enjoyed parading Armidale Secondary College’s prize-winning steers and said she was looking forward to a career working with animals.

“Studying agriculture at school gives you a better understanding of animal behaviour, and coming to the Royal Easter Show has given me experience in how to parade the livestock,” she said.

Staff and students in lines holding ribbons. Staff and students in lines holding ribbons.
Image: Mr Dizdar with students and staff from Armidale Secondary College.

Working towards their HSC

Agriculture is not the only educational opportunity at the show.

Public school hospitality students again operated the Rural Students Café, cooking and serving high tea and drinks to show-goers.

More than 120 students from 12 schools worked in the café across both weeks of the show.

When Mr Dizdar visited, 24 students from Kempsey High and Baradine Central were working front and back of house at the cafe.

The students are completing their Cert II in Hospitality or Cert II in Cookery, with the experience counting towards their HSC and work placement.

Shakaya from Kempsey High School said it had been a rewarding experience.

“They teach you the recipes and the techniques to cook and when you’re working out the front, they teach you how to make the coffees and drinks and how to serve them,” she said.

A man presenting another man with a certificate while a woman looks on. A man presenting another man with a certificate while a woman looks on.
Image: Skills, TAFE and Tertiary Education Minister Steve Whan presents Peter Kell with a certificate to recognise his work supporting students in the Rural Students Cafe during the Royal Easter Show.

Displaying all the right attributes

A large contingent of students and staff from Yanco Agricultural High in south-western NSW headed to Sydney as part of the school’s show team and achieved significant success.

The Yanco team included some students showing cattle, and others who were part of the school display team.

Miley O’Brien was named Grand Champion Parader, an achievement Principal Marni Milne said was “outstanding”.

Miley will now represent NSW at the national finals later this year.

“To have Miley achieve Grand Champion and so many other students achieve places, is a fantastic achievement for Yanco that affirms the quality of our show stock program at the school,” Ms Milne said.

Yanco secured second place behind Lake Illawarra High in the Schools Districts Exhibits Display Competition, which requires students to create a display from produce they have grown.

“Our display used a variety of produce to depict the struggle of life on the land and the impact it can have on mental health, as well as highlighting the services that are available to farmers,” Ms Milne said.

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