Slidell was already years removed from its rural past when Northshore High School opened on former farmland in 1982 to serve a growing population, but educators want city officials to reconsider one aspect of suburban life: a ban that limits the ability of students in the school’s agriculture program to work with livestock.
Northshore Principal Frank Jabbia and the school’s three agriculture instructors — Peter Cannizzaro, Todd Tarifa and Bryant Laird — put their case to the Slidell City Council on Tuesday night.
At Northshore, 475 students participate in agriculture classes and Future Farmers of America activities, Cannizzaro said, making it one of the largest programs in the state. Next year, the school expects to top 500 students and will add another instructor.
But only a handful of students have been able to actually raise and competitively show livestock, Cannizzaro said, and teaching animal science has been limited to video and other technology rather than hands-on learning.
Northshore was annexed into the city so it could get services, but that meant a more suburban ethos, and the agriculture program has been hobbled by city ordinances that ban everything from fowl to horses.
For Joanna Gholson and Whitney McKinzie, two juniors who raised and showed lambs this year, those rules meant they had to keep their animals off campus, at Lewis Stables. The two alternated weeks of tending Nieko and Pidge, getting up before dawn and working after sunset in the short fall and winter days to care for the animals.
The distance factor made it harder for their instructors to oversee their work with the lambs, Tarifa said.
The inability to keep animals on campus also prevented teachers from incorporating the animals into instruction for other students, Cannizzaro said.
The teachers brought the lambs and some pygmy goats to the school for what Tarifa described as “a great two days.’’ But having animals on-site would mean more opportunities. He assured the council that the school is not trying to have a herd and that the program wouldn’t have the animals on the campus all year but would instead keep them from August to February and then send them back to the farm.
That’s what happened with Nieko and Pidge. The students were expecting little lambs, Tarifa said, but they arrived as 50-pound animals that were not used to people.
Gholson and McKinzie had to build a bond with them in order to handle them in the show ring and oversee their growth to 170 pounds. Then the lambs returned to a herd in Lafourche Parish.
City Council members, several of whom spoke fondly of their own experiences in the FFA, were encouraging to the Northshore contingent.
Councilman Sam Abney, a retired teacher and coach, said nothing can substitute for hands-on training. Councilman Warren Crockett said he learned about people as well as animals when he was a member of FFA as a student at Slidell High. Councilman Jay Newcomb, who teaches at Slidell High, said he was involved in the program when he was growing up in St. Mary Parish.
Slidell wasn’t always devoid of farm animals. Mayor Freddy Drennan said that when he moved to the city in 1969, Slidell, like most of St. Tammany Parish, was largely open range. But suburbanization changed that. Slidell specifically bans the keeping of fowl and any livestock, including potbellied pigs.
Drennan said he and the city attorney will look at the law to see if a very limited exemption, tied to education, can be crafted.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.