Driving performance

  • Print this page

  • Tell A friend

How do you drive performance and build the total program? Hundreds of educators around the country are doing it with incredible results in the development of transferable skills, 21st-century soft skill attainment and academic accomplishments.

Integrating content. FFA advisor Amie Cole, a 12-year veteran at Paragould FFA in Arkansas, uses hunger as a platform to integrate all three components into her program.
“It started as an educational outreach program to civic groups, where our FFA members would talk about the issue of hunger,” Cole said. “Then I began to relate what was going on in my horticulture class to the population as a whole. How could what we are doing in horticulture class affect the hungry in our community.”

A student in Amie Cole’s agricultural education program does education outreach.

She discusses edible plants with her class and impresses on them that in many parts of the world, they depend on plants for their caloric intake. Cole points out that people around the world, even in this country, don’t have access to meat and other protein sources. Her students were shocked in the beginning to learn that even some of their friends in Paragould aren’t able to access the protein most people take for granted.

Today many of her students conduct SAEs related to hunger—everything from volunteering at local food pantries to using an SAE grant to develop a communication system for the county’s hunger-fighting organizations to collaborate. In addition, Cole and her students continue to host an annual FFA event where they teach more than 600 elementary students in 25 minute stations about where their food comes from, community gardens and the pressing issues of hunger.

Krista Pontius of Greenwood FFA in Pennsylvania believes that if agricultural education is done right, all three components complement each other. In Pontius’ two-teacher program, they serve 230 students each year and she emphasized agriscience as one of their favorite topics. She shared that agriscience took off in their program out of necessity because they needed a broader scope of SAE opportunities. “Agriscience is the perfect example of how the three elements work together, teach scientific method, implement teachings through experiential learning and enable students to present their findings.”

Lauren Fried and Lauren Wilson of Greenwood FFA in Pennsylvania receives recognition from Representative Mark Keller and Secretary of Agriculture George Greig for their achievements in agriscience at the 2012 National FFA Convention & Expo.

Pontius believes the positive use of all three components is contagious. “We took two kids to the agriscience fair at the farm show 10 years ago; this year we are taking 49,” she said. “We will also be taking 20 students to convention and have a finalist in agriscience.” Greenwood FFA is a living example of using all three components to engage every student.
Kathy Mayfield, an agriculture educator in Clackamas, Ore., has been in the profession for 25 years. She shares this passion for facilitating the total program. When asked how she integrates all three components into her program, she said, “I don’t know what to tell you—it is what I believe in and is ingrained in everything we do.” Like most agricultural education programs, they are bombarded with “stuff” opportunities, suggestions, events, etc. Mayfield said she uses a checklist to filter all of these opportunities. “If it can’t support all three components, it doesn’t enter my program.”

She credits her high school agriculture educator for instilling this philosophy in her. “Everything starts in the classroom. It is no good to chase FFA banners without classroom instruction and experiential learning. If you have a solid curriculum, the next three components are natural steps.”

Advice. Cole’s advice on integrating all three components of the agricultural education model is to lure them in with FFA. “FFA is your opportunity to get them there, then it makes them realize what skills they need to be successful, such as technical skills or communication skills. This realization drives their performance in class.”

Pontius agrees. “The blue and gold is the attractive part; students are looking for ways to get to put the jacket on. They understand the need for an SAE to put what they learned into practice, then FFA gives them awards and opportunities they wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

SAEs could be intimidating…if you let them. Cole has more than 400 students in her program, and many of them don’t want to raise an animal or be placed on a production farm. She has to get creative. “An SAE can be as simple as a seedling project where kids plant seeds to transplant in a community garden. One method to help students find a passion is to take a whole project and piece it out, making them work together. If they each have a piece of ownership, they will be invested and want to make it better,” Cole said.

In the classroom, Kathy Mayfield works to seamlessly integrate all three components.

Pontius’ advice to keep stakeholders interested in the entire program is to communicate. “We create a monthly newsletter to explain what is going on in all three areas, which seamlessly comes together to showcase our program. We also have an advisory board to help with SAE ideas. We work together to help students take what they learn and apply it in different industries and organizations in our local community.”

Mayfield believes the key to sharing agricultural education with administrators is to put kids in front of them. Students can share how they have benefited from all three components; with this delivery it becomes clear to the administration that all three components are necessary.

Benefiting beyond graduation. “My goal is that when they leave here, they will have gained something they will use for the rest of their lives,” Cole said.  “Even if they do not choose agriculture as a profession, they will know how to raise food and support a community garden. They will know where their food comes from and be able to make informed decisions when they grocery shop and go out to eat. We also hope that in helping others their perspective has changed.”