The word ‘community’ can take a lot of different meanings, especially to those of us in agricultural education. Three definitions come to mind:
1) The community we teach and live in; a vital part of an agriculture education program.
2) The teacher community we share with our fellow ag educators; a crucial part of surviving and thriving in this profession (and sometimes surviving definition #1)
3) Ecological term my agricultural biology students used the other week
Well, seeing how I can’t think of anything terribly exciting or reader-worthy for the third option, we’ll stick with doors #1 and #2 for the next couple posts. I’ll start with the first, as next week I will be at the NAAE Convention in the shadow of the St Louis Arch, and I’m sure there will be at least a story or two concerning our teacher community there (whether or not I’ll be able to write about it is another matter).
We could all list a dozen ways our students and programs contribute to the community; many school groups can. However, where agriculture education takes a lead over others is by incorporating community into the instruction and experience of our students. Whether it is as SAE placement mentors, CDE judges or coaches, great field trip experiences, guest speakers, Alumni members, nominating committee interviewers, or 'just' a great resource for your curriculum, community infuses a vital and irreplaceable component into our programs.
We have several examples of that here in our school. This past year was a testament to community as our Alumni took on the project of replacing our old greenhouse, which had long since seen the end of its scheduled useful life. The work of a few people with the right talents and skills leveraged several other organizations and foundations, and the result is a $65,000 project that is top-notch for our students to learn in and use. All possible, especially in the economic times we find ourselves in, because of community.
Community was also key this past week for the continued personal and professional growth of my advanced animal science juniors and seniors. They are smack dab in the middle of agricultural sales and service, and being of an older age, the expectations have grown. Many of these students are Intro to Ag Science (Ag I) graduates, so have some experience with the basic skills (sales is one of the very few topics I will go into twice – once with the basics, and as they get older with a lot more detail). In fact, 10 of them enjoyed being on the other side of the sales table for a period and came in to my freshmen classes this year to serve as customers for sales presentations, and gave feedback and scores – necessary leverage, as there is no way I could do presentations with the 34 students in first period by myself and be done by Thanksgiving, let alone in one day!
It’s easy to bring in a senior to work with a freshman, but what do you do for the senior then? In order to have my advanced students develop a ‘felt-need,’ I let them know early that their audience would be someone who was not in the classroom. Have you ever seen the looks on 30 faces when 30 hearts all skip a beat as realization sinks in? In all the things I do, this exercise seems to always lead to the most anxiety – and that is perfect preparation for all the ‘real’ things they are getting ready to do: college interviews, job applications, and more; things that don't have second chances to make first impressions. They don’t get to find out who their audience is until they walk into class presentation day, and the nerves are fantastic. It wouldn’t be possible without community – the local tire dealership manager, the drugstore owner, the local insurance agent, the past mayor, and more provide an audience that puts the polish on better than a ‘regular’ presentation in front of their classmates ever could. No student has ever not been ready this day of presentation – I wish I could say that for all my classes!
Our programs are unique because of the interaction that happens between us and our communities. In just the next month we will see canned food drives, light parades, and redesigning the landscaping behind the senior center. Plenty of community to utilize and work together with for student success.
READER RESPONSE: Share in the comments how your community is a valuable part of your ag program!