May 23, 2018
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Teen potato pickers dwindle in PI

By Scott Mitchell Johnson Presque Isle Star-Herald, Special to the BDN

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The number of Presque Isle High School students who worked during this year’s potato harvest was the lowest it has been in the past 10 years.

According to the results of a survey of high school students, only 105 performed harvest-related work during the three-week break. That compares with 141 students who worked the harvest in 2009 and 132 in 2005.

This year’s harvest-related jobs included hand picker (six students), harvester (35), potato house (27), School Farm (24), truck driver (five), windrower (three) and babysitter for parents so they could work in the fields (three), while two worked at Ag World Support Systems, LLC in Easton.

Of those students, which represents 19.2 percent of the school’s population, 41 were seniors, 39 were juniors, 18 were sophomores and nine were freshmen. They earned, in total, $121,587.

Survey results show that 21 other freshmen did nonharvest work, while 120 did not work at all. Seventeen sophomores did nonharvest-related work, while 91 were unemployed. Forty-one juniors did other work and 70 did not work, while 52 seniors did nonrelated harvest work, and 31 did not have jobs.

In presenting the survey results to the SAD 1 school board recently, Superintendent Gehrig Johnson reminded directors that the board agreed several years ago to revisit the potato harvest issue if the percentage of students doing harvest-related work got down to 15 percent.

“We’re within that range that we use as a criteria,” he said, noting that SAD 1, Caribou, Fort Fairfield, Mars Hill and Easton continue to have a three-week harvest break. “Many schools are getting away from having a full harvest; Ashland doesn’t have it all, and some schools have pared it down to two weeks. It’s all over the place.”

Director Robert Cawley questioned whether the students who work at the School Farm, an agricultural program at the high school, should even be included in the harvest-related work ratio.

Johnson said that while all the work they do may not be related to potatoes, “it’s still harvest work.”

Board member John Johnston said that if those students were taken out of the equation, the percentage of students working would likely drop below the agreed upon 15 percent.

“I think the point could be made that some of those kids would work in a potato field if we did not have the School Farm,” said director Paul Saija.

“There are some who would do harvest work elsewhere, but they choose to work at the School Farm,” he said.

After additional discussion, the board made no motion to have a full review of the harvest break policy.

The next regular SAD 1 board meeting will be held at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 15, at the PIHS board conference room.

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