By CINDY GALLAGHER
Agricultural Science Teacher, Waterville Central Schools
Our Waterville Central School District is in the process of implementing a new Agricultural Education Program with classes to begin this fall.
The process leading up to this point began several years ago, with Board of Education, administrative, staff, community, Oneida County Cooperative Extension and Farm Bureau collaboration.
Our school district has been actively participating in New York’s “Farm to School Program” since the 2014-15 school year and was selected to participate in the 2015-16 Northeast Farm to School Initiative.
This program included: activities designed to teach students to make healthier food choices; the introduction of local food products into the school menu; the revitalization of our elementary school “Victory Garden” and implementation of farm and food curriculum by educators in the elementary school.
Our school board and administration had put together several committees which helped to foster success, including a Farm to School Steering Committee, a Farm to School Team as well as an Agricultural Advisory Committee. Our school business manager has also been a key participant in the process, especially helpful with obtaining grants.
The first step in beginning a new agricultural program is to assess your school and community needs. Next, you should gather facts and information that will help you to garner community support.
You should have a clear understanding of what agricultural education is, including the three-component model (classroom and laboratory instruction, supervised agricultural experiences and FFA). You should also familiarize yourself with the state and national Quality Program Standards.
You can find a wealth of information at www.nysffa.org and www.ffa.org .
It is also helpful to investigate the career opportunities that exist for agricultural students as well as the career and college preparation that results from an effective Career and Technical Educational Program.
This information should be disseminated to your school administration and staff as well as to your community. You will gain support when they understand the opportunities an effective agricultural education will provide to the students.
A small minority actually participates in production agriculture. However, the entire agricultural industry encompasses endless career opportunities and these often require a technical education.
It has been projected that about 58,000 new jobs in agriculture will become available annually over the next five years.
It is also vital that your community understands the benefits students gain from inquiry and hands-on learning.
Finally, explain FFA through its mission statement: “FFA makes a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.”
New York State Agricultural Outreach and Education staff will provide assistance and guidance for both new and existing programs. They are available to advise you on developing a program, career pathways, courses and curriculum. They will guide you through the process required to have your program approved as well as getting your FFA chapter chartered.
Other agricultural teachers are happy to share information and to collaborate with new programs. Visits to successful programs are certainly warranted and extremely beneficial to learn about the programs and to build partnerships.
Form an Agricultural Advisory Committee consisting of key community and local industry supporters, interested parents and students and involve the appropriate administrative staff.
This committee should help to: continue to identify needs, establish goals, encourage collaboration, explore partnerships, provide assistance and develop a task list and timeline for implementation. Utilize your committee to network and build support for your proposed program.
Finally, if you are going to need to bring a proposal to the Board of Education, be prepared, organized and have the information to back up your statements. Enlist community leaders for support.
Development and implementation of a new Agricultural Education Program takes time. Waterville’s development process has probably been slightly different in that it already had school board and administrative interest and support.
Our participation in the Farm to School Initiative provided a firm foundation that helped to bring school staff, parents and community members to a better understanding of the agricultural industry.
Most importantly, when beginning a new program, utilize support and assistance from local agricultural organizations and leaders, NYS Agricultural Outreach and Education staff, other agricultural teachers and successful programs.
Collaboration is key!