Much More than Chocolate (5/15/2020)

Recently the Friday Footnote visited Cal Farley’s Boy Ranch in Texas and we have also learned about the Idaho Industrial Institute. This week we will visit a unique school in Pennsylvania. We welcome Nicholas Isenberg, an agriculture teacher at the Milton Hershey School as our guest columnist.

Milton Hershey School
By Nicholas Isenberg

Everyone has their favorite Hershey’s candy product, whether it is the Hershey Bar, Hershey Kisses, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, or Take 5.  My favorite Hershey’s product is the Milton Hershey School.  Milton Hershey School began as a dream and vision shared by famous chocolate maker Milton S. Hershey and his wife, Catherine (Kitty). The Hersheys loved children but were unable to have their own, so they decided to use their wealth to create a home and school for orphaned boys.

For more than 110 years, Milton Hershey School has been helping young people break the cycle of poverty through a quality, cost-free education and life-changing opportunities and experiences. Today more than 2,000 students attend the Milton Hershey School. Milton and Catherine Hershey’s vision for their school became reality when they both signed the Deed of Trust on Nov. 15, 1909, establishing the school.

“They shall be instructed in the several branches of a sound education, agriculture, horticulture, gardening, such mechanical trades and handicrafts as the Managers may determine, and such natural and physical sciences and practical mathematics.” (MHS Deed of Trust)

Figure 1: An excerpt from the Deed of Trust that outlines how the school will be run. This section specifically states that students will have instruction in agricultural education.

 The Early Years

Milton Hershey believed students benefit from learning by doing. Since the beginning, agriculture education has served an important role in the MHS curriculum. Mr. Hershey stated, “Our school will provide every boy in its care with a thorough common school education, supplemented by instruction in the useful crafts. We are teaching the boys agriculture, horticulture, dairying, blacksmith work, the rudiments of electrical work, carpentry and such things.” (New York Times, November 18, 1923). Girls were admitted to Milton Hershey School in 1977.

History – A Dream Realized and Sustained – Milton Hershey School

In 1912, a publication about the school’s program shared that students learned modern methods of agriculture, horticulture, and various branches of animal husbandry, dairying, and creamery work.

Figure 2. Students harvesting vegetables in the truck patch in the 1930s.

By 1920, greenhouses were added to the school to expand on the Horticultural Department.

Besides the traditional classroom course work, Milton Hershey School’s hands-on learning opportunities also came in the form of daily chores, and in the early days that meant working the farms, in the fields, and with the animals.  These farms ranged from fruits and vegetables, chickens, turkeys, and grain farms.  There were also dairy farms where students were responsible for milking, feeding, and caring for the school’s dairy herds, before and after school.

Figure 3. Students milking cows as part of the before and after chores.

Not all students live on farms today but there are agriculture-themed student homes for students who have an interest in agriculture and participate in the Agriculture and Natural Resources Career Pathway.
There are more than 180 student homes on the campus today. Each home houses up to 12 students of the same gender and the same approximate age. Students live, learn, share, and grow with their housemates and houseparents. Each home is managed by a married houseparent couple who have child-care experience. When students are in the 12th grade they experience “Transitional Living.” They move into apartment-style residences and receive support from staff members. 

Student Home Life – Living at Milton Hershey School


Ag Education Today

In the mid-1990’s, the Agricultural and Environmental Education program was established to replace students living on farms. This department consists of four centers that provide resources, educational support, and internship opportunities to the students and staff of the school.  

The Animal Center cares for and manages a herd of beef cattle, dairy goats, sheep, and a variety of small animals.  See this video ( about our students preparing their livestock for the Pennsylvania Farm Show. 

The Horticulture Center has three large production greenhouses where they raise bedding plants and hydroponic fruits and vegetables. The Horticulture Center also manages a vegetable farm. Most of the fruits and vegetables that are produced out in the fields or in the greenhouse are sold through our student store, Project Market, which is open to the general public. Watch a video ( about the Project Market. 

The Environmental Center houses a reptile and amphibian educational collection, a sugar shack that boils sap from Sugar Maple trees that are tapped on-campus, and manages a cooperative trout nursery in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.  

Finally, our Ag Operations Center is home to the school’s ag machinery and shop, and manages 1200 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa, and grass hay that is grown to feed livestock on-campus and sold as a cash crop.

Today’s Agriculture and Natural Resources classes at MHS embrace CASE and are aligned with the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) focus of the school’s Agricultural and Environmental Education (AEE) program.

The pathway provides students with hands-on, student-centered lessons and experiences with aeroponics, hydroponics, crops, orchards, floriculture, and animals. Students are prepared for careers that involve the production, processing, marketing, distribution, financing, and development of agricultural commodities and resources. See what a student has to say about this pathway.

Students in this career path also have the option to participate in the AEE program’s student-run Project Market and after-school activities like 4-H and FFA.

Figure 4. Students picking apples for sale in the Student Project Market

Milton Hershey School has a long history of hands-on learning, particularly in agricultural education. Milton and Catherine Hershey felt very strongly that students need structure, and the daily life on a farm was the structure they needed, while teaching honest and productive life skills. More than 10,000 alumni have benefited from the generous gift that the Hersheys left when they formed the school, and have many fond memories of life on the “unit” or their activities in 4-H and FFA on-campus.

Figure 5. Agriculture instructor and author of this Friday Footnote, Nicholas Isenberg, working with students in the Ebb and Flow table in the high school greenhouse.

Teaching Suggestions

1. Have student research about the life of Milton Hershey and how he overcame multiple failures before finding success or his interest in agriculture. This link might help students get started – . 
2. Have students explore the Milton Hershey School web site and tell whether or not they would like to attend this school and give reasons why