We’ve been attending roundtable discussions around the state to address the future of Agricultural Education in Idaho. To spur "out of the box" thinking, we're encouraged to answer the question, What if we could . . . ?
We start each gathering of concerned parents, teachers, business owners and student leaders with a discussion of the strengths of the current program. So many great things come up: gives hands-on kids a place to succeed, provides public speaking opportunities, teaches financial record keeping, mentors individual profit-making projects, teaches life skills and work ethic, exposes kids to the wide world of careers in food production, etc.
We then go on to discuss needs of the program: more trained ag teachers, a program in every school, administrative support, a vo-ag advocate on every school board, funding to update machine shop technology, competitive salaries, liaisons with local businesses and industry, etc.
Without exception, the discussion comes around to the need to educate the public that what was once “Future Farmers” now encompasses a whole range of study. From natural resource education (forestry, environmental science, etc.), to machine shop technology (small engines, welding, etc.), and leadership training (public speaking, parliamentary procedure, etc.), kids get real world application on a host of subjects. Even agriculture curriculum has expanded to include subject matter like greenhouse experience and landscape design in addition to plant and animal science.
To wrap up the meetings, we talk about current efforts to obtain more funding from the state legislature and how each of us can help forward that effort. And in every case, with six meetings to date under our belt, the “needs” of the local community line up with goals of the Agricultural Education Initiative. Mentoring for new teachers, a full time FFA coordinator, incentive grants for programs that meet quality standards, start-up monies for new programs, and additional funding to cover costs of running a program are all covered with the initiative effort.
I had the pleasure of sharing a roundtable with a school board member from a neighboring district. He said that vocational-agriculture classes drive higher education. What? Turns out that some kids, especially those that do better with hands-on activities and never thought they would attend any schooling beyond graduation, get in an ag class and find out they like school after all. Their interest is peaked by learning to weld or learning about careers in farming, or like our kids, compelled by the leadership opportunities provided by FFA.
At a different roundtable on another evening, I listened to a first-year female teacher tell the story of one student, considered a lost cause by the other teachers, who got enthused when the class dissected hearts from deer they had harvested during hunting season. She is now talking to him about careers in wildlife management or biological sciences. He found out he was interested in learning after all. Stories like these abound in ag education.
What if we could . . .?
What if I could . . .?
It’s a great exercise to look at our own lives with the same mind set. What if I could - read to the kids every night . . . turn off the tv . . . clean out the basement . . . land my dream job . . . start a business . . . rebuild my marriage . . . get published!
For more information and ways to help, refer to:
photo courtesy of Sara Schmidt