Agricultural high school in Bristol County
keeps the farming dream alive!
Located on 300 acres in Dighton, MA, mere yards from the Taunton River, lies the pastoral campus of the Bristol County Agricultural High School. But for any student, teacher, staff member, alum, 4-H’er, local resident, or area farmer, simply calling it Bristol Aggie will suffice.
Bristol Aggie supports strong academic and vocational/technical programs that focus on agriculture and the natural environment. They believe agricultural education offers a unique pathway to prepare students for lifelong learning. Academically, the school follows the same state educational guidelines that a typical high school follows.
The school was founded in 1912 as an all-boys agricultural school; students actually lived on the property while learning and working the land, then a vegetable farm. Over the years, the school has evolved to meet the needs of the agricultural industry.
While students no longer live on campus, today Bristol Aggie works as an operational dairy farm as well as a high school. They are part of Agri-Mark, a dairy co-op that’s one of the largest suppliers of farm-fresh milk in New England. The co-op operates a large cut-and-wrap operation in Vermont, which includes both Cabot and McCadam cheeses. All types of cows at Aggie produce for the co-op, including Holstein, Jersey, Guernsey, Brown Swiss, Ayrshire, and Milking Shorthorns.
You’ll also find horses, laying hens, beef cows, pigs, fish, rabbits, sheep, exotic birds, and goats on the property, all supporting the Animal Science and other programs at Bristol Aggie.
There is no cost to attend the public school, but priority for admission is given to Bristol County students (Acushnet, Attleboro, Berkley, Dartmouth, Dighton, Easton, Fairhaven, Fall River, Freetown, Mansfield, New Bedford, North Attleboro, Norton, Raynham, Rehoboth, Seekonk, Somerset, Swansea, Taunton, and Westport). The school is county-owned and run by a Board of Directors that oversees operations. More than 400 kids attend the 9-12 grade school, and there’s a waiting list to get in.
Leslie Blanchette, Bristol Aggie alum, is head of the Animal Science program. “Some years we’ll get up to 600 applications for a given year, but only have 120 openings,” she explained.
“There is an application process which also includes an interview,” she added.
Students typically spend half their day in academic courses that any high school student has, such as math, science, and English; the other half of the day is spent in their chosen vocation. The vocational programs are Animal Science, Floriculture, Arboriculture, Landscape, Natural Resource Management, and Agricultural Mechanics/Diesel Technology.
Like some people, I was under the impression that an agricultural school may be a necessity for kids who can’t cope with a typical high school environment, but I was wrong. “We certainly have some of those kids, like any school, who have some social issues, but this is such a small, tight-knit community, kids can really focus on their vocation, literally find themselves, in this great environment,” Leslie noted. “Some kids have a hard time with the classroom setting, having to sit still for hours, while here they are hands-on right away. The freshmen start their days with their vocation first, purposely, to get them involved from day one,” she added. “We provide them with the tools they need to be successful in the agriculture industry, and most of our kids go on to college,” she said. “Kids really excel here, there are few if any attendance issues or tardiness, they can’t wait to get here and get to work.”
That work includes regular farm chores like milking cows, feeding calves, weeding, and mucking stalls. “Our kids are responsible and have a good work ethic. Our student workers have to be here at 5:30 am, and they want to be here,” Leslie added.
“I really wanted to work with animals, and agriculture in general,” said Devin Veilleux, an Aggie senior. “Being in an environment filled with people my age who loved the same things was very exciting to me. I grew up with animals, and having the chance to be with them during high school was a beautiful opportunity for me. We clean their dishes, toys, shelters, virtually everything that comes in contact with them so that they are ensured 100% cleanliness as much as we can. We feed and water the animals, and we socialize them while doing so. I couldn’t wait to apply and I’m so happy that I did,” Devin added proudly.
Kaity Walorz, a junior at Bristol Aggie, agrees. “I love being outside of the classroom because we get to work with the animals and gain experience so when we go into the field we have an advantage.”
Bristol County Agricultural School, one of the owners of Cabot Creamery Co-operative and the only agricultural high school in the Commonwealth with a working dairy, houses 20 to 25 cows who produce approximately 150 pounds of milk a day.
“Students here have the ability to find their passion, and then follow that passion,” vice principal Robin VanRotz, also a Bristol Aggie alum, added. “We had a student recently that had a passion for bees and wanted to start a bee club. We gave the student the support to start that club. The kids get to learn by working with animals, they learn by doing, and sometimes they make mistakes. They learn sustainability, and that not everything is replaceable. They learn life lessons here,” she emphasized.
“I fell in love with the rats, mice, birds, snakes, and rabbits alike,” Devin added. “It was so incredibly cool to me that we were allowed to touch and learn about these animals so closely. The school really trusts their students, and it pays off wonderfully.”
It has paid off for Bailey Veilleux, who attended Bristol Aggie and is now an Animal Science major (pre-vet track) at the University of New Hampshire. “We learned everything from basic care to milking the cows and shearing sheep. We also got to learn other skills such as how to administer vaccines, trim hooves, and tube feed young animals. This work has been very beneficial to me. Any animal experience and handling will help me to better my skills on my journey to becoming a veterinarian. I also currently work at my university’s dairy farm and my experience with dairy cattle in high school has helped me to work well with the cows at college,” she said. “I wanted to become a veterinarian, and I could not think of a better high school to help me achieve my dreams,” she said.
Some kids enjoy the opportunity to work out class problems in the field within their vocation as well. “A student might relate to math, for example, better when using it in real life situations, like landscape design. It makes more sense to them than just numbers on a blackboard,” Leslie notes.
“We pull from a wide area and have a wide variety of students. Some come from small farms, others haven’t spent any time at all with animals. We’re accepting of all students and all backgrounds. These kids all have something in common, they enjoy not being in a classroom the whole day, they like to be outside,” Robin added.
And you thought your garden was big? The Bristol Aggie garden spans two acres! The Landscape and Arboriculture students assist the staff in maintaining the garden all summer, which provides food for the cafeteria during school season. The produce is also sold at the “BA Grows” farm stand at the foot of the campus, just over the Berkley Bridge on Center Street, and is open to the public in season.
The students are involved in other ways in the community as well, like with local food drives. “These kids raised enough to provide Thanksgiving dinners for 75 families in need, with New Bedford’s Friendly Sons of Saint Patrick providing the turkeys,” Robin said. Other local events include a Polar Plunge in association with Beth Israel-Deaconess Hospital in Plymouth, Walk for Hunger, and an annual toy drive. “It’s an outpouring of love,” Leslie said.
Devin added, “We are a small school, and I think it’s really great how big of an impact we make doing things like that.”
“Our students have high expectations of one another. The freshmen look up to the older kids, who’ve set the work ethic bar pretty high. The upperclassmen help foster the rules with the new students. Everyone is in charge of the upkeep of the farm, it’s a matter of pride, and the new students understand that pretty quickly,” Leslie explained.
“The students also thrive because our staff is so great,” Robin added. I mention that the two staff I’m interviewing are both Bristol Aggie alumni. “Doesn’t that speak volumes?” she said.
Bristol County Agricultural High School
135 Center Street
Dighton, MA 02715
Mike Gioscia is a drummer, writer, DJ at WZLX in Boston, and the President of The Soule Homestead Education Center in Middleborough.
Serve these irresistible Puerto Rican snacks with plenty of your favorite hot sauce and a cool beverage. Recipe courtesy of the Cabot Creamery Cooperative.
- 3 cups water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1½ cups stone-ground local cornmeal
- 1 teaspoon adobo seasoning, optional (or a pinch each red pepper, oregano, minced garlic, and ground cumin)
- ½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
- 6 ounces Cabot Extra-Sharp Cheddar, Pepper Jack, or Habanero Cheddar, grated
- canola oil or unhydrogenated lard for frying (2 – 3 cups, depending on pan size)
Combine the water and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, then add the cornmeal a little at a time while whisking constantly. Continue stirring until the mixture simmers and thickens and is nice and smooth. Remove the pan from the heat, add the seasonings and cheese, and stir until the cheese is melted. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.
Moisten your hands with water, and pull out golf-ball-sized lumps of dough. Roll and form each ball into a cylinder about 3 to 4 inches long and 1 inch in diameter. As they are shaped, place the surullitos—not touching—on a baking sheet to rest. (The surullitos may be formed thus and held an hour or so before cooking. They will firm up if chilled. They may then, if it’s convenient, be sealed in a container and held in the refrigerator up to two days.)
Just before snacktime, place at least a ¾-inch depth of oil or lard in a cast-iron skillet, and heat it over medium heat to 325° (or until the surface appears a little wavy but oil is not smoking). Have tongs, a metal spatula, and a slotted spoon ready to manipulate and retrieve the surullitos. When the oil is hot, carefully ease five or six of the surullitos in the oil and cook for a few minutes per side, until they are crispy and golden brown all over. Place on a rack or absorbent paper to drain and cool a few minutes before serving.
Snacks for 8-10.