The National Quality Program Standards for Secondary Agricultural Education call upon educators to provide and support the active participation of their students in supervised agricultural experiences (SAEs).
Facing this call, teachers and students are cultivating dynamic ways to integrate SAEs into instructional practice and learning.
“We are the largest FFA chapter in Texas,” explains Josh Anderson, a teacher at James Madison High School in San Antonio, Texas. “Our school is an urban school with 100 percent of our students living in subdivisions. Very few of them own property away from the city. While the school has an on-site farm and traditional SAE projects, we also have to develop opportunities for every student.”
Anderson and his colleagues try to find opportunities that fit the lives of their students. Students at James Madison High School work in labs at the school, support two small aquaculture ponds, take care of livestock and develop projects of their own.
“One of our students won the aquaculture proficiency by working before, after and during school hours,” said Anderson. “The diversity of her experiences gave her the opportunity to participate in the Costa Rica Proficiency Travel Seminar. On her trip, she had traditional and non-traditional agriculture experiences with Costa Ricans which she brought back to her classmates.”
Adapting rubrics for success
“At Meeker High School, roughly five percent of our students have traditional SAEs,” said teacher Trina Kennedy. “Others are working with the department of wildlife or in business settings to obtain the experiences they need while still having an agriculture focus.”
In order to expand her student’s experiences, Kennedy got creative and aligned the process with the proficiency award application. She adapted the rubrics from the National FFA website pertaining to two strands: placement and entrepreneurship. Using these rubrics she assigns a poster project that includes all the components of the proficiency applications.
“Students really get into the process,” said Kennedy. “It’s funny because the freshmen look at me like I’m crazy, then they see how interested and challenged the older students are and get excited about it. By the time the students are juniors and seniors, they take great pride in their posters, and the posters are very elaborate.”
Posters are on display at a community banquet in order for the community to see the impact of the students’ SAE involvement. Kennedy’s advisory board serves as judges and the students receive gold, silver and bronze awards for their work. Adults in the community are just as excited and see the importance of placement and entrepreneurship. Finally, those who want to complete the proficiency application have a good understanding of it because of the work they’ve done to develop their poster.
Service learning and community impact
Liz Treptow’s students at Weimar High School in Weimar, Texas, participate in SAEs with a service-learning focus. Like Anderson and Kennedy, Treptow’s students are engaged because they come up with the project ideas and strategies themselves.
“At Weimar High School, our FFA is responsible for running the community’s food bank,” said Treptow. “Students do everything. They make food orders and unload and package food items for delivery. Students see the impact of what they are doing in our community.”
Student experiences lead to learning
“Because students are so engaged by SAEs, they are more aware of the support they receive from others,” said Treptow. “They can see the impact of their efforts to help someone else. The experience builds character in that they learn what it takes to plan and implement a project from start to finish.”
Anderson agrees. “We had a student who wanted to raise white pigeons. She rented her pigeons out for weddings, growing her own business. She, like many of our other SAE students, learned she could make a living from her project. You don’t have to be a straight ‘A’ student to contribute and do well.”
Continuous instruction and supervision
“I strive for having good classroom management while expecting a certain amount of chaos that keeps the kids engaged,” said Kennedy. “The more engaged the students are, the more committed they become to accurately tracking their progress in their record books. Students soon realize that they cannot complete their poster without the documentation to support it. They become more proficient at keeping accurate records.”
“I try to stay open to the students’ ideas,” added Anderson. “I find it is important to give them an opportunity to show how their ‘odd’ SAE project can fit into the agricultural education experience. Sometimes the project I might have ruled out becomes a successful business outside the classroom.”