After nearly a decade of informal collaboration, Norfolk County Agricultural High School and the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine have found it makes good sense to work together.
It was that realization, and a nudge from an area legislator, that prompted the two to sign an agreement recently to formalize and expand on their cooperation.
Situated on about 300 acres of county-owned land in Walpole, Norfolk is one of four public agricultural high schools in the state, serving about 420 students. Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton is the only veterinary school in New England.
At a ceremony at the high school on Jan. 23, officials from both institutions heralded the benefits they said each would receive from their strengthened ties.
The informal partnerships between the schools to date have included occasional loans of farm equipment and the donation of Tufts-bred pigs for a Norfolk pig-raising program. Tufts faculty members have provided advice to Norfolk students on farm medicine and treatment. Norfolk has helped prepare Tufts cattle for shows.
Students from Tufts's clinical skills class, meanwhile, have visited Norfolk's animal facilities, especially its aviary, to learn more about animal management. Tufts has hosted Future Farmers of America livestock judging competitions at which students from Norfolk and other schools assess the marketability of beef cattle, sheep, and swine.
The new agreement will provide Norfolk faculty with special privileges at Tufts's veterinary library to take advantage of specialized reference services.
Tufts will offer guidance to Norfolk in developing curriculum involving veterinary and conservation medicine, and provide teaching materials in farm animal triage and first aid. It will provide help in the development of Norfolk's new biotechnology program.
In addition, Tufts will invite the high school to take part in its annual fall open house, and seek internship opportunities for Norfolk students at its emergency treatment veterinary clinic in Walpole.
The two will look for ways to partner on grant applications, and a Tufts student or staff member may participate at Norfolk's career day.
''I think we're really going to blossom as a partnership," said Angela Avery, superintendent of the high school, in an interview after the signing ceremony.
''We're very excited about this," she said. ''It's very exciting to be working at this level and to be talking about opportunities for teachers and for students."
Philip C. Kosch, dean of the veterinary school, said during the ceremony that at Tufts, ''we are about teaching, research, and service." He said the school's mission includes reaching out to ''various groups as an academic organization in order to find those common areas where we can collaborate.
''We've had a very good working relationship with this agricultural high school, and we want to strengthen that," he said.
While both schools welcomed the agreement, a legislative effort by House Ways and Means Committee chairman John H. Rogers, a Norwood Democrat, helped bring it about.
Although Tufts is a private university, the state has provided the veterinary school with funding since 1983.
Rogers said he has helped maintain that funding despite state budget cuts -- though the funding level fell from $5.3 million to $3 million this fiscal year. But he inserted language into this year's budget requiring that, as a condition of it receiving continued support, Tufts enter into the agreement with Norfolk Aggie. He said Tufts readily accepted the provision.
Addressing students at the ceremony, he said, ''It's not just a great day for these two institutions. More importantly, it's a great day for you.
''Even if you don't go on to go to Tufts University," he said, ''you will benefit from its resources, its technology, and its fine long tradition of excellence."
He said for those who do reach the Tufts veterinary program, ''that excellent school . . . will benefit from your superior knowledge, your superior education earned here."
Brianne Crowley of Foxborough, 17, a senior at the high school who aspires to be an agricultural education teacher, said she enjoyed the opportunity to teach visiting Tufts students about cow herd management. She also learned from them, she said.
''I'm excited, but at the same time I'm sad because I'm leaving and all this stuff is happening next year," she said.