COVID-19 Impacts SAE for Ag Students

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(Photo contributed by Tyler Leonard)

Nonnewaug senior Tyler Leonard picks apples at an orchard lonesomely to make it a safe environment for others. Leonard’s supervised agricultural experience is among the many school- and work-related impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rich Groben, Reporter

WOODBURY — Coronavirus came with ease and has affected millions of people worldwide. Along with this, it continues to displace lots of people out of jobs temporarily or permanently. 

Schools around the globe look totally different compared to eight months ago — none more so than Nonnewaug High School, where student’s and faculty members’ jobs were affected.

Nonnewaug is an agricultural school, which means that students from surrounding areas and districts can apply to join the agricultural program. They work with animals, machines, plants, and anything else that can be farmed or used in life to provide sustenance or work a job in the agricultural field.

Students are a part of the Future Farmers of America, which is a student-run organization that focuses on working together to provide the best for the next generation of the FFA. 

Students who are a part of this program are required to have a supervised agricultural experience, which essentially is a job. They can volunteer, start their own business, or obtain a paying job where they can learn outside of the classroom on their own.

They record all of the hours they work to prove that their SAE is a proper learning experience and they are getting the most that they can out of their job. But with coronavirus coming into play, how has it affected these students and their jobs?

Tyler Leonard, a senior ag student, is the 2020-21 student advisor for the Woodbury FFA Chapter. He works at Brothers’ Tree Service in Watertown and an orchard in Southbury.

Leonard said his work with Brothers’ Tree Service was the most heavily impacted because his boss, Mike Bernardi, became sick with COVID-19. This brought a halt to all work at the tree service for him.

On the other hand, his boss at the orchard, Jim Wargo, does his best to maintain safety at the orchard and around customers. Leonard said that he was told to “stay far enough apart” from his boss regarding working around each other in the orchard. He also has to wear a mask around all customers.

Fellow senior ag student Brenna Ritchie, on the other hand, has had quite a different experience.

Ritchie works for the Audobon Center Bent of the River in Southbury. This is a 700-acre reserve where people can go to enjoy the outdoors with their family or pets, which is what drew Ritchie to the reserve in the first place.

“I like the environment,”  Ritchie said.

There were always people hiking, kids were at summer camp, and there were always people in the office working.

When COVID-19 came around, everyone lost their jobs and was on their own, including Ritchie’s boss. After some work they were all able to come back, but masks and social distancing were always required, even when working outside.

“My mom wasn’t happy with me working with other people,” Ritchie admitted, although these precautions helped ease her mother’s mind.

Both Leonard and Ritchie, like countless others, had to face many new changes to their jobs, hopefully for a short amount of time.