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Ecco Arendell plans to go to college with a goal of getting a master’s degree and eventually joining the foreign service. And Logan Barnett hopes to begin an apprenticeship as an electrician.

Neither of these paths are easy, but both students have firsthand experience seeing how hard work can pay off through College Hill High School’s Urban Farm program. Arendell and Barnett, if they finish a few last assignments before tonight’s 7 p.m. graduation ceremony, will be among the first six students to go through the Urban Farm program and reach graduation.

Urban Farm was introduced in the 2016-17 school year to expand the Corvallis School District’s alternative education programming beyond the juniors and seniors that had most commonly enrolled at College Hill.

Eric Wright, College Hill’s principal, said the program can give freshmen and sophomores who’ve struggled in school a way to tangibly see their hard work paying off: “If you don’t feed the chickens, they die. If you don’t water the trees, you don’t get fruit.”

Wright said for much of humanity’s history, people needed to work hard just to survive, but in modern times the connection between hard work and positive outcomes can be a little abstract. However, the farm environment can make the positive benefits of hard work clear for students.

Arendell, who joined the Urban Farm program midway through his sophomore year after struggling at Corvallis High School, said he was surprised that it wasn't a typical classroom environment. Instead of sitting and listening to a lecture, students did lessons where they applied what they were learning to real-world situations.

“I would not have graduated without Urban Farm,” he said.

Arendell said the experience was not just a chance to regain credits, but also a chance to change his whole mindset about school.

“Urban Farm helped me see what I’m learning has use and can be applied the rest of my life," he said. "That really engages you.”

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Barnett, who came to College Hill as a freshman and struggled, joined the program at the beginning of his sophomore year. He said he has trouble paying attention to classroom lessons for too long, but he liked the hands-on learning of the Urban Farm program.

Barnett added that the experience opened his eyes to the opportunities he could have in high school.

Barnett said Urban Farm students took field trips to local farms and businesses almost every week and tested ideas they'd gleaned from those visits. That kind of learning was exciting and the program's students became close, he said.

“It was a family instead of just a class you go to,” he said.

Wright said in addition to establishing lasting relationships, the Urban Farm students continued to find leadership opportunities throughout school, through things like giving tours to visitors, teaching lessons at Salmon Watch field trips, and serving in the school’s enviro-mentorship program.

Wright said when the program began, there were a lot of unknowns, such as whether students would remain at College Hill after their Urban Farm year or return to their original high school. Mostly, he said, students have remained, although some of the original cohort did move out-of-district.

He added that the program has a cohort of 15 this year, and the school plans to keep it going and even enhance it through things like building a greenhouse and cob oven.

“It’s going well and students are finding success,” he said.

College Hill’s graduation is at 7 p.m. tonight, at the school, which is located in the Harding Center at 510 NW 31st St.

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Anthony Rimel covers weekend events, education, courts and crime and can be reached at anthony.rimel@lee.net, 541-758-9526, or via Twitter @anthonyrimel.

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