The Cow Boys: Battle with New Attendance Policy

The sound of cattle fills the fair lot. Muck and hay stuck on boots leave remnants on barn floor. In barn 17, Corey Wormwood, a senior, can be found sitting in a camp chair near his cows while fair goers walk by without paying attention.

According to the USDA, the number of farmers aged 34 and younger grew by nearly 40 percent from 2007 to 2012. This is a huge increase in the number of young farmers in Maine.  

Wormwood is proud to be apart of this group of young farmers and has been showing cows for eight years. The bond between Wormwood and his cows is obvious. He even sleeps with them at night during fair weeks.

Fairs like the Cumberland Fair and the Fryeburg Fair happen around the same time every year in early fall. For people like Wormwood, this involves a lot of time caring for the animals  and even more  time away from  school.

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With the current attendance policy, students are allowed to miss 12 classes from a full year course and seven from a half-year course before they risk losing credit. According to the school handbook, the only absences that are currently allowed by the school are “personal illness, an appointment with a health professional that must be made during the regular school day, observance of a recognized religious holiday when the observance is required during the regular school day, a family emergency, a planned absence for a personal or educational purpose that has been approved in advance.”

Unfortunately for Wormwood, what used to be 24/7 attention to the fairs over a two-week period,  has now turned into more 24/5.

Wormwood spent two days at school during the week of the Fryeburg Fair, but was frustrated at having to miss fair time because being at the fair for him isn’t just looking at cute animals and eating fried dough. Wormwood helps care for his own animals and also works for other farmers who need their animals cared for.

“Missing two days equals about $300 that I’m not getting paid,” says Wormwood.

Wormwood plans to major in Agricultural Engineering while in college. The schools that he is looking at, appreciate seeing participation in either the 4H or the Future Farmers of America (FFA). Kids who are invested in either group are expected to attend fairs .

4 H stands for head, heart, hands, and health. Head is managing and thinking, heart is relating and caring, hands is giving and working, and health is being and living. 4 H has a goal of helping youth reach their full potential.

“School is information and the fair is skills… life experience,” says Wormwood.

Wormwood believes that his time at the fairs and his participation in the 4 H can teach him more life skills than his time at school will.

Casey Belanger, a senior, is also apart of 4 H and has been showing cows for two years but attending fairs for as long as he can remember.

If you’re lazy then you won’t be able to do this. What I mean is that it’s a lot of work. You get up at 4 in the morning to do chores and then go to school so it’s really hard on your body,” says Belanger about his life as a teen farmer.

These fairs are not a surprise to people in the Thornton Academy community, yet the new policy could in fact hinder the lifestyles of the students who participate each year.

The fairs are planned absences which could be categorized as personal or educational which means it shouldn’t be a problem. The only questions that remains, is if these absences are being approved by the school in advance.  They fit the requirements and if TA plans to prepare its students for a changing world, then the students  opportunities to get real life experience shouldn’t be limited by an attendance policy.

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