File photo

File photo

Pictured is the SJC Core Building shortly before the college’s suspension of operations in 2017. Former RCSC ag teacher Ron Wamsley now has an office to teach online classes for IATS on the second floor.

RENSSELAER — St. Joseph’s College announced Wednesday it is partnering with Indiana Agriculture and Technology School (IATS) for the 2019-2020 school year.

IATS is an online charter public school, advertised as a “blended learning environment,” serving Indiana students grades 7–12 with an emphasis on agriculture and technology.

“This significant partnership will allow secondary students the opportunity to be regular visitors to the SJC campus,” college officials stated in a press release.

IATS’ agriculture teacher for the site will be Ron Wamsley, the former agriculture teacher of the Rensselaer Central School Corporation.

“It’s a lot of the same things,” he said earlier this week. “Friday, I had a soil practice in the eastern part of the state, and then people came to that location and we practiced there. We have kids from all over the state.”

Wamsley said the school has Active Participation Days (APDs), where the teachers meet with the students. Some of these APDs are similar to an all-day field trip, and take place at ag-related locations like Fair Oaks Farms and the Jasper County Fairgrounds.

If a teacher is leading a presentation for students during an APD, that presentation is often based at a particular site. For IATs’ students in northern Indiana, that location for presentations will be in a lecture hall of SJC’s Core Building. These APDs usually take place on Tuesdays.

“It won’t be every Tuesday, but at least a couple times a month,” Wamsley said of the SJC meetings. He added that it would be “roughly” twice per month. He also has an office on the second floor of the Core Building.

During one such meeting, which had to be conducted Thursday of last week, Wamsley and his students measured trees around the SJC campus.

“These are home-schooled kids, primarily,” Wamsley said. “And so, they enjoy meeting.”

Wamsley said he feels like the students get “the best of both worlds” when it comes to balancing home-based education with good hands-on learning experiences.

“We all know that seeing something for real, hands-on, is much more beneficial than reading it out of a book or on the computer,” Wamsley said.

According to Wamsley, IATS was still negotiating a deal to hold gatherings on the SJC campus when he was being hired.

“Nothing had been written down,” he said. “Then, in early fall, in August, when I went to go meet with them, we had to kind of start the process over again.”

Ultimately, the two parties agreed.

“It didn’t take long to think that the partnership would be a positive one between St. Joe and IATS,” Wamsley.

He said that IATS and St. Joe’s arrangement will last in writing for the remainder of the school year before it needs to be reevaluated.

“(We are) excited to work together and serve Indiana students at the St. Joseph’s College campus,” SJC stated.

In the meantime, IATS and SJC are also looking at the possibility of using other parts of the campus in the future.

“We’re in a feasibility study to possibly lease the farm, the greenhouse and aquaponic units on the west side of campus,” Wamsley said. “Nothing’s been set. There’s no concrete answers. It’s just a fact-finding study to determine if that works for (SJC) and for us.”

He said the main concerns are whether water and electric lines can be run in that area, and if the cost would be reasonable.

“They’re wanting to finish it so we can lease the property in the spring,” Wamsley said of IATS.