When people hear that I teach Agricultural Education and serve as a Future Farmers of America (FFA) Advisor, I am asked to explain what I teach because they haven’t heard of the curriculum or they have a stereotypical image of what I do. Agricultural Education should be in every school, but it isn’t. The importance of our curricula spreads further than the classroom—we need agriculture to survive. If you eat, you need agriculture. If you wear clothes, you need agriculture. If you take medicine, live in a house or write with a pencil, you need agriculture.
The courses taught under the Agricultural Education umbrella are essential to our students in many ways. It is our responsibility to educate youth on the importance of this time-honored industry and its professionals
. The National FFA Organization is the largest youth-led organization in the nation. Years ago, “FFA” stood for Future Farmers of America. In 1988, the name changed to the National FFA Organization to represent the vast changes in the organization. Today, over 600,000 members across the United States, including Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, are working hard to advance our nation’s most valuable industry—agriculture.
Each Agricultural Education program in the United States is unique in its own way. Courses range from Agricultural Business to Agricultural Economics, Animal Science, Horticulture, Agricultural Mechanics, Bioengineering, Floriculture, Natural Resources and Ecology Systems, Leadership Development and many others. Each pathway strives to advance agricultural technology and sustainability to improve the world in which we live. Regardless of a student’s interest, Agricultural Education instructors help students understand the importance of what they are learning in authentic, meaningful ways. Furthermore, Agricultural Education sparks new student interests, opening the door for students to discover potential future careers.
As I entered middle school, the opportunity finally came for me to take agriculture classes and be a member of the FFA! I attended meetings, participated in contests, went on educational trips, attended leadership conferences and made numerous new friends throughout Virginia. I was still somewhat shy in front of an audience, so when my mother suggested that I participate in the FFA public speaking contest, I thought she must have been kidding. However, her encouragement, along with guidance from my Agriscience teacher, Mr. Hisghman, motivated me to try it. In eighth grade, I won the Massanutten Federation, Northern Area, and then the State FFA Creed Speaking contest. I even placed third in the National FFA Invitational Creed Speaking Contest!
It was a true testament of how a little encouragement and belief from others could truly inspire someone to do great things.
My involvement continued when I was elected as the President of the Signal Knob Middle School FFA Chapter. Little did I know that years later I would return to that very school when Mr. Hisghman retired, to be the third-generation family member to serve as the Agriculture Teacher and FFA Advisor in my hometown.
Today, my program at Signal Knob Middle School is not set up like a traditional classroom. Each year, I greet more than 300 sixth, seventh and eighth grade students. I have 13 classes of students every two days and four different subject preps, all in Agriculture. To most people, this seems very overwhelming. While it can be challenging at times, I wouldn’t want it any other way. I am able to reach out to far more students than most teachers. I get them excited about Agricultural Education and the FFA starting in sixth grade, and help them develop their potential and accomplish great things by the eighth grade. My greatest accomplishments have been when I am able to coach and assist students in public speaking, parliamentary procedure, small animal care or agriculture mechanics, then watch them use those skills to compete in FFA Career Development Event contests and use these skills in their lives. I help students make connections with what they are learning in school to the outside world. I have contributed countless hours to ensuring that my students have authentic experiences in our school and community to develop a sense of civic responsibility.
I am able to instill passion and enthusiasm in the lives of my students through Agricultural Education and FFA involvement.
In fact, one of my former students, whom I taught in sixth, seventh and eighth grades, is graduating from high school this June. He enrolled in Agricultural Education in high school after he left our middle school program and continued being active in FFA. This fall, he will attend Cornell University majoring in International Agriculture. Agricultural Education programs are more than cows, plows and sows. We foster genuine, lifelong learning for all students, regardless of their background or future goals. There is something in Agricultural Education and FFA for everyone.
My students learn valuable life skills through hands-on projects in our school and community. This past year, our hard work was recognized when our FFA chapter was named the top middle school FFA chapter in the United States! The agricultural education program that my colleagues and I have developed and implemented now serves as a model for FFA chapters throughout the United States. We have developed innovative approaches and ideas to foster and promote student learning. We must work together to send forth empowered and versatile life-long learners, capable of successfully navigating to this ever-changing world and its myriad of complex and emerging challenges.