Tag Archives: ALCE

New workforce opportunities for students

Holston High School students played an important role in finishing the inside of the barn that was built using the grant funds. Once the structure was up, they constructed walls and sides to keep the animals safe.

Holston High School students played an important role in finishing the inside of the barn that was built using the grant funds. Once the structure was up, they constructed walls and sides to keep the animals safe.

Agriculture is an evolving industry that is becoming more scientific and technical. These changes mean exciting new career opportunities, but students must be equipped with the skills and knowledge to meet employers’ ever-changing needs.

In an effort to help teachers prepare students for these jobs, Virginia Tech has provided six Virginia high school programs with Virginia Agricultural Education Centers of Innovation grants. This funding is made possible through the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services with matching funds from the Virginia Tech Foundation Fund for Community Viability.

“We are excited to work with agriculture teachers who are pushing traditional boundaries to broaden students’ education and career opportunities,” said Donna Westfall-Rudd, associate professor of agricultural, leadership, and community education and project leader for Virginia Agricultural Education Centers of Innovation.

Teachers were asked to develop proposals that detailed curriculum and activities that supported contemporary agricultural education through the use of new classroom and laboratory technology. The goal of the innovative curriculum was to improve students’ career and college readiness.

In Washington County, Holston High School agriculture teacher Sarah Scyphers used her grant to build a barn to house animals near the school. Scyphers is excited about the learning possibilities associated with keeping the animals on-site. “Instead of playing games and just identifying things, the students can now put their hands on the animals,” she said.

Having the animals at the school will allow Scyphers and Phil Blevins, the Virginia Cooperative Extension agriculture and natural resources agent in Washington County, to conduct Beef Quality Assurance training for the students during the school day.

John Carpenter, the middle school agriculture teacher in Carroll County, has worked with Handibot, a smart power tool company, to develop a compact, computerized, numerical-control milling machine that is ideal for school systems as well as affordable. Carpenter’s students are using drafting software to develop programming skills while learning an appreciation for one of our country’s leading natural resources — timber.

Halifax County agriculture students made art-inspired garden decor and tools. These items will be sold in an online store created by the students and their high school teacher, Jon Chandler, as an entrepreneurial experience. The students built the online store while learning horticulture and developing business skills.

Lessons created for these and the other programs are available to teachers through the Virginia Agricultural Education Centers of Innovation website. Grant recipients have also shared their experiences at the Early Career Teachers conference and the National Association of Agriculture Educators convention.

Community resources and expertise were extremely valuable to teachers developing innovative programs. Each teacher formed an advisory committee made up of community leaders, local industry representatives, parents, and school board members. These committees provided guidance for curriculum development and assistance during implementation of the programs. This support ensured that students received relevant skill development to prepare them for college or future careers.

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Helping communities become more sustainable and economically secure

Beth Schermerhorn

Beth Schermerhorn is conducting a survey to measure food access in Harrisonburg. Her project, Harrisonburg EATS, is funded through the Community Viability Endowment.

Ten years ago, an endowment was created to help communities across the commonwealth and beyond be more sustainable and resilient through partnerships with Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and local community members.

Since its inception in 2004, the endowment, which has grown to more than $2 million, has provided income to fund numerous projects that foster partnerships and spur creative research at the granular level. It has also provided seed money for an array of projects with wide-ranging impacts.

“A gift like this can get lots of different projects started,” said Rick Rudd, head of the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education and the Virginia Cooperative Extension Professor of Excellence in Community Viability, a position funded by the endowment. “We are helping people leverage resources.”

The gift was given in honor of R. Michael Chandler, Donald P. Lacy, and J. Douglas McAlister in recognition of their service to Virginia Cooperative Extension.

One initiative that has its roots in the Community Viability Endowment is the Virginia Agricultural Leaders Obtaining Results program. Supported with seed money from the endowment, the program trains professionals from industry, academia, research, and education to serve as leaders in the agricultural industry.

Another program currently being funded is the Appalachian Foodshed Project. Funds from the Community Viability Endowment have helped get crucial conversations started about strengthening food security networks throughout Appalachia.

“The project has brought more awareness about the challenges Appalachia faces when talking about community food security,” said Susan Clark, associate professor of horticulture and director of the program. “By listening to what community stakeholders are telling us, everyone learns how to work together to meet the goal of regionally enhanced food security.”

In the Shenandoah Valley, Harrisonburg EATS is also being funded by the Community Viability Endowment.

“We’re hoping to engage the community but also to have those tangible impacts that come out of this process,” said Beth Schermerhorn, education research support specialist at the Virginia Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education development program. “Part of our goal is not only increasing food security through access, which seems to be what the broader discussion is about, but also providing meaningful employment that provides a salary and living wage through food systems.”

Other projects funded this year include programs to expand science-based outreach and to use agricultural curriculum as a multidisciplinary teaching tool.

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