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On the farm . . . Waitaki Girls’ High School agriculture and trades pupils are (from left) Lakoia Moore (15), Jess Lake, Abby Tait, Abby Rowland, Holly Horn, Georgia Hawkins (all 16), Olivia Van Kleef and Amber Malafu (both 15). PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE

Waitaki Girls’ High School is giving pupils a pathway to the rural sector.

The Oamaru secondary school set up a trades academy last year, allowing pupils the opportunity to get hands-on experience working on various farms throughout the district.

Four pupils took part last year and seven have joined the initiative this year.

At present, the year 11 and 12 pupils mostly spend time on dairy farms, learning different skills from fencing and driving quad bikes and tractors, to spraying and milking. They are now getting ready to help farmers with calf rearing.

Teacher in charge of agriculture Jennifer Howden and husband Jim own an orchard and the pupils spent time there as well, learning additional skills.

Mrs Howden came up with the idea for a trades academy after hearing about a similar programme at Maniototo Area School. She worked closely with year 11 agriculture teacher Jess Wright to set up the Waitaki Girls’ programme.

Mrs Howden said it had been an incredible asset for the school, and the pupils involved were engaged and motivated.

The community had also been supportive, welcoming pupils on to their farms, and the Veterinary Centre Oamaru helped sponsor overalls.

‘‘We’ve been so lucky. I’ve got more farms wanting to take students than I’ve got students that I can put out which is absolutely fantastic,’’ Mrs Howden said.

‘‘The community response has just been amazing and I’m really thankful for it because we don’t have the room here to develop a farm like other schools.’’

If the pupils completed 40 Level 2 credits in two years, they received a certificate in primary industry skills.

‘‘But we let them work at their own pace and we try and get them a range of skills.’’

Olivia Van Kleef (15) said the programme was better than ‘‘sitting in the classroom’’, and Jess Lake (16) enjoyed getting to know the local farming community.

The programme could help the pupils get jobs after they left school and some had been offered work during the holidays.

Other agriculture pupils had also visited a farm in Kurow this year to learn about dung beetles.