Most people wouldn't pair the city of Philadelphia with raising livestock.
But at W.B. Saul High School, kids from all over the city get to experience farm life. And York County native Gail Koskela, nee Rishel, gets to show them the ropes.
Koskela grew up on her family's farm in Seven Valleys, raising black Angus cattle. After teaching at Dover Area High School for three years, she began teaching at Saul, where all 600 students are members of the National FFA Organization, aka Future Farmers of America.
There, her students make the commitment to care for an animal each day. This week, they showed 11 sheep and four pigs at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. Four out of her 10 students were Master Showmen.
What it takes: "There's a difference between Saul animals and real animals," said Koskela, sitting next to a pen of sweater-wearing sheep.
Her students' Southdown sheep aren't known for their wool -- they're primarily used for meat. The breed is docile, and the city sheep kept their cool around the chaotic crowds of the Farm Show.
The students also face a different environment at the show.
Koskela recalled a time when one of her students was initially criticized for wearing a leather jacket and headphones -- until he bred a cow at the show.
"The kids are real ambassadors," she said.
But the point of exploring the agricultural sciences is more than just the dirty work, Koskela said. Saul aims to set students down their future career paths, with an emphasis on teaching them to respect the food production process and raise animals ethically and humanely, she said.
"We're not here to raise prize-winning pigs," she said. "We're here to raise stellar individuals and students."
A family: For Natasha Rodriguez, 16, raising sheep is difficult, but working with animals is rewarding.
"I see animals as people because they have feelings, too," she said.
And Saria Cooper-Burks, 16, said her red-and-white pig, Stinker, is just now beginning to listen to her more.
"I would say it takes patience," she said. "And I always wonder what they're thinking. They're very curious creatures."
It's frustrating but fun to work with pigs, said Bianca Maldonado, 16.
"It's definitely an experience," she said. "It's trying to control an animal that has its own mind."
Amanda Forstater, 23, is a Saul alumna who helps Koskela during the Farm Show. Her team placed first in the state in livestock judging in 2009.
And she's on her way to being an ag teacher, just like Koskela. She comes back to the Farm Show because she misses it, she said.
"We're like a little family at our school," Forstater said. "I'm not ready to give that up."
In memory: Hundreds of State FFA Degrees, which are given to the top members of Pennsylvania's FFA Association, were given out Monday.
One was given posthumously to Rachel Rose Sobel, who would have been 18, Koskela said.
Rachel was one of her students, a senior at the high school last year who was killed in a motorcycle accident in July. She would have made it back to the Farm Show if she could, Koskela said.
"She would've found a way to get here," she said.
-- Reach Mollie Durkin at firstname.lastname@example.org.