Farm skills unlock potential

Daryl Spargo helps his students erect a fence.
Daryl Spargo helps his students erect a fence.

But none fill him with as much pleasure as the work he has put in with successive classes of young people least suited to the school system.

With low literacy and numeracy skills, they tended to drop behind in regular classes and find school a negative experience.

About 15 years ago, Mr Spargo noticed the rising growth of horticulture and farming operations in the Peel region that were not matched with education courses to supply necessary skills.

One of the early enterprises he started at the school was growing trees for farm planting. Not only did the students plant the seeds and grow the plants but also planted the sturdy young seedlings on farms around the area.

It was on one of those tree-planting exercises that Mr Spargo first met Andy Gulliver of C-Wise at Nambeelup.

A working partnership developed quickly and now the school, through Mr Spargo, has a significant role managing the 400- hectare property on which the C-Wise business and one of WA’s biggest piggeries is located.

The students essentially manage the sheep, cattle and alpaca stock to keep vegetation from overgrowing and creating a fire hazard.

The farm is an outdoor classroom for one day a week for students in Mr Spargo’s group.

Mr Spargo coined the acronym FLEEC to describe the Flexible Learning Education and Engagement Centre.

Students are involved with fencing, shearing sheep, cattle marking, weed identification and control, organic vegetable growing, bird identification, photography, cooking, driving, machinery operation, tree planting and care as well as wetland rehabilitation.

Mr Spargo, together with support staff and the FLEEC students, helps C-Wise by planning all farm activities, providing labour for the many environmental rehabilitation programs and animal husbandry on the site.

Plant trials are run at the school shadehouse.

The gardens around the C-Wise office and farm entry are managed as firebreaks.

A fencing program is run to ensure stock are confined in planned locations but perhaps the best contribution is the chance for students to work on a real farm with real work consequences and gain a relevant qualification.

For its part, C-Wise provides power and water on site at no cost, farm machinery, work experience opportunities, high visibility safety clothing and access to infrastructure in the form of shearing shed, yards and machinery such as tractors, utes and trailers.

Profits from the cattle enterprise help fund the FLEEC program.

Students can earn a Certificate 11 in Rural Operations after two years involvement with the FLEEC program.

Over the years Mr Spargo has shown enormous aptitude for gathering and enhancing resources for FLEEC at low or no cost. While the school has no formal agricultural division, I saw many envious glances from Ag teachers on a recent tour of the facilities that he had got up and running on that ‘smell of the oily rag’.

There are many young people for whom Mr Spargo’s program has unlocked potentials that were in many instances unrecognised. His educational legacy is alive and working both in the students themselves but also for their grateful parents.