Tag Archives: CV

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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Communities working together

Furniture-maker Andrew Pitts is a member of the Northern Neck Artisan Trail.

Furniture-maker Andrew Pitts is a member of the Northern Neck Artisan Trail.

Communities in the Northern Neck knew they had a problem. Young people were leaving because of a lack of jobs, the current workforce needed additional education, and there were few opportunities for those who wanted to stay in the area.

Four years ago these communities took steps to improve the situation by participating in the Stronger Economies Together program, which has allowed them to build a blueprint for regional economic success.

Today, the Northern Neck is putting its plan into action by engaging partners and leveraging the strengths of this diverse region. Communities have come together to form the Northern Neck Artisan Trail, which highlights the creative talents, foods, and agricultural products of the region, and to participate in the emerging Virginia Oyster Trail. The new trail offers visitors a way to enjoy Virginia’s seven different oyster regions, as well as to experience the unique culture of watermen in the Chesapeake Bay.

The region has received grant support from the USDA and the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development to create the Northern Neck Loan Fund to help emerging entrepreneurs and small businesses gain access to capital. The USDA recognized the Northern Neck Economic Development Plan for its commitment to strengthening the area’s economies and identified it as a model plan for the program.

The SET program promotes collaboration among communities by pooling economic assets among municipalities and expanding the vision of local policymakers in rural areas to think regionally, beyond their own communities. Virginia Cooperative Extension partners with Virginia’s USDA Rural Development office, the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, the Virginia Tourism Corporation, and Virginia Tech’s Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics to deliver technical expertise that leads regions through the planning process.

“The guidance and support that we received from Extension has been invaluable to the region,” said Lisa Hull, tourism and economic development coordinator for the Northern Neck Planning District Commission. “Extension has helped keep the group together through this process.”

The Northern Neck and a section of Southside Virginia were the first two regions to complete the program. In 2015, three more regions — the Eastern Shore, the Mount Rogers Planning District, and northern Shenandoah Valley — were selected to participate and are currently forming their plans.    

“The SET program provides communities an opportunity to map regions, think about who the stakeholders are, and invite new people to the conversation,” said Martha Walker, community viability Extension specialist and SET project coordinator. “Communities are able to come together and make real progress toward enhancing and building on the assets of their communities to spur economic growth.”

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