Agriculture Plus Education Equals Student Success

Posted on Sep 14, 2020

Ag-Ed is providing educational opportunities for all students

As another school year starts, teachers, administrators, counselors, and district and state educational personnel are finding new ways to reach students either virtually or in person as COVID-19 restrictions linger.

But despite the pandemic, the learning process continues thanks to advanced technology and the dedication educators have for their students.

Kentucky Farm Bureau (KFB) has a long history of supporting education at all levels in this state and the people who drive the educational engine, said KFB President Mark Haney.

“The largest section of our organization’s policy book is dedicated to education, and we know how important it is to support all those who have dedicated their lives to teaching our young people,” he said. “We are especially proud of our agricultural education teachers and leaders who work tirelessly to prepare the next generation for leadership roles in our ag industry, and the communities in which they live.”

And it is so often evident in ag education classes that students are developing their leadership skills along with gaining subject knowledge.

Brandon Davis, Kentucky FFA State Advisor and an agricultural education consultant with the Kentucky Department of Education’s Office of Career and Technical Education, said the leadership aspect built into ag education classes and FFA is something that will benefit students no matter what employment sector they enter.

“Regardless of whether or not a student chooses a career in agriculture, we're going to help them be successful because those skills of leadership are in high demand,” Davis said. “We feel like we're definitely equipping all students to be successful in whichever road they take after they leave the high school programs and move forward.”

Davis, who also sits on the KFB State Board, added that more and more he is seeing ag education begin at the middle school level, something that is giving students a head start in career readiness choices.

“The interest in expanding middle school programs has really come from an intentional focus on making sure that students are thinking about careers and career options earlier, when they are in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade, and not feeling like it’s something that should strictly be limited to high school students,” he said.

Davis emphasized that middle school programs are helping to educate students about agriculture and about career pathways.

“From there, we are seeing these students, once in high school, enrolling in courses in agriculture, so the middle school programs are somewhat serving as a recruiting tool for the high school programs,” he said.

One of the many benefits of agricultural education is the inclusion of FFA and the various competitive events that help enhance student leadership skills while adding to their knowledge about the industry, regardless of their connection to the farm.

Misty Bivens, an ag education teacher at LaRue County High School, sees that on a daily basis.

“I grew up on a beef cattle and tobacco farm, and I was an agriculture student in high school, served as a State FFA officer and went to the University of Kentucky and got my degree in teaching,” she said. “So, I came to this job having that ag background. I think now, more than ever, I get fewer and fewer students who have a similar farming background. But the thing they get from ag education, that they may not always get in other classes, is a chance to show off a different set of skills in the different contests and award areas offered through FFA. They really get to put into practice what they learn in the ag classroom.”

Bivens was recently named the 2020 Kentucky Agriculture Teacher of the Year during a special recognition ceremony at this year’s virtual Kentucky FFA Convention.

“I was extremely excited when I found out and, in fact, when I got the initial email telling me I'd won, I teared up a little,” she said. “It's an award given out by the Ag Teachers Association, so you're really getting picked by your peers.”

Bivens’ passion for her job and her students is evident when talking to her, as is the case with so many agriculture teachers — whether they have 20 years of service, as does Bivens, or if their careers are just getting started.

James Kash is beginning his third year as Menifee County High School’s agricultural education teacher. He said there are many student advantages to being involved in today’s ag classroom. 

“Some of the best things about agricultural education is that when students come into our classrooms, most of them are here because they want to be,” he said. “And the second thing is, we try to teach our students in an interactive, inquiry-based, hands-on way, teaching them skills and characteristics that will carry them through their adult life.”

Kash is also a product of ag education and, like Bivens, was a State FFA officer before becoming a teacher. He feels that hands-on method of teaching is beneficial to students whether he’s teaching about welding or leadership. 

“We don't just talk about the method or theory behind a topic; we actually put it into practice,” he said. “If I'm going to teach welding to my students, for instance, I'm going to teach them about the proper techniques, proper positioning, the types of metal, and the method of welding they might use. And then we're going to go to the shop and apply those skills, hone in on that craft, and work to be proficient at it. The same is true when we are learning leadership skills. Our involvement in FFA allows us to learn about those skills and apply them through competitive events.”

Kash also noted other subject areas that are naturally taught as part of ag curricula including science, math, and biology, for example.

“We’ll also discuss the history of agriculture, chemistry, and English as we go through the school year,” he said. “As ag education teachers, we are really giving students a well-rounded education, in my opinion.” 

If there is a common denominator among ag teachers and within agricultural education in general, it is quite possibly the opportunities that can be realized by being involved in these programs. 

“I think there are just so many opportunities for students through ag education that they just don't always have in other places,” Bivens said. “If you're a great speaker, we have opportunities for you. If you are a super hard-working student, we've got proficiency opportunities for you. If you love to do community service, or you want to travel and see different things, we have opportunities to do that, as well. And I think that’s what is so unique about agricultural education.”