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.