Perspectives: Marketing our program

By Paul Heasley
State College High School, Pennsylvania

The biggest industry in the State College area is education: The Pennsylvania State University, the State College Area School District, and three other school districts including a Career and Technical Center are found in our community. Because PSU is our land grant institution, there is a College of Agricultural Sciences as well as colleges of science and engineering within three miles of our high school. This provides a rich science presence in teaching, research and outreach. While the local area still fosters small dairy farms, grain and hay operations, some livestock enterprises, truck farms, tree fruit producers and small forestry woodlot owners, the high school agricultural science program had only 32 students in 1996. Today we are proud to have 160 students enrolled.

The growth in enrollment can be attributed to extreme efforts to market the program in the local, academic-focused community. We seek out ways to foster partnerships and collaboration.

Inside the agriculture department
It’s absolutely essential to offer our customers what they want. As a result, we offer four career pathways for students to choose from: animal science, plant science, ag mechanics and natural resources. We conduct eighth grade tours, parents’ night and back-to-school nights to showcase these career avenues and encourage enrollment. The FFA members actively promote activities through the school website as well.

There is also the expectation that the program’s students and FFA and Young Farmer members will be actively involved in school and community organizations, providing support and engagement across disciplines and interest. These activities foster a collegial atmosphere and provide leadership opportunities and advocacy for our program.

In the profession
I am a member of the Pennsylvania and national agriculture teachers’ associations. In an effort to model desired behavior, students and fellow educators see my efforts to stay abreast of the latest educational hot topics and provide guideposts for evaluation of the program. While none of us like to evaluate our programs, much less complete professional award applications, doing just that has brought additional and more non-traditional students into our program. It also proves the validity of our program to outsiders looking in. We now have proven credibility for reinforcing academic standards, implementing supervised agricultural experiences and developing future leaders.

Beyond the agriculture building walls
Never underestimate the power of communication. We do a great job of singing our students’ praises and often think that will be enough to keep problems at bay. The reality is that we have got to promote our efforts to stay relevant to the academic world. To that end, I’ve written articles highlighting program projects that have appeared in Pennsylvania and national FFA advocacy forums as well as educational journals. I also make an effort to present our program activities to various teacher and community groups. We can’t keep telling our stories to each other!

In addition, we continually look for opportunities to work with other departments in our high school (Biodiesel Integration project); with our elementary schools through service learning; and with post-secondary departments at the PSU College of Agricultural Sciences (Glycerin Deer Feed and Tractor/ATV Safety programs). The result has been a more positive relationship with these entities.

Everything we do is a conscious effort to reinforce our philosophy of developing collaboration, partnerships and academic integration. If we can continue to maintain vested partners, keeping them involved in all levels of our agriscience program, our students will have limitless and endless possibilities and opportunities in agricultural career development.