Andrea Fristoe

Agricultural Education for ALL -- Jessica Fernandes

Blog Post created by Andrea Fristoe on May 19, 2021

Agricultural Education for All is a joint partnership of the National Association of Agricultural Educators and the National FFA Organization with the goal of ensuring all in agricultural education feel welcome, safe and celebrated as their authentic selves. Every month in New Teacher News and Teach Ag Times, we will feature some of the outstanding teachers making a difference and creating inclusive, diverse and equitable programs for their students. For more information about Agricultural Education for All, please contact Ellen Thompson.


This month, we would like to introduce you to Jessica Fernandes. Jessica is the agriculture teacher at Buena Park High School, in Buena Park, California. Over the course of her 21-year teaching career, she has made great strides in providing her students and community with an inclusive and equitable agriculture program that reaches far beyond the walls of the classroom. 


Who/what inspired you to be an ag teacher? Oddly enough, I left high school knowing that being an ag teacher was the last thing I wanted to do. I went and earned a degree in political science lol. During this process the agriculture program I graduated from, Don Lugo High School, in Chino, needed an agriculture teacher and I was excited to take advantage of an opportunity to work with my agriculture teacher, Kathy Gassen. My life was forever changed for the better after that.


What motivates you to continue to teach ag? Honestly the students and the wonderment or "ah-ha moments" are what keep me going. COVID has been tough, but maintaining high standards, keeping all three circles going and building student relationships has helped me maintain my sanity and love of the job.


What advice do you have for new teachers to create an inclusive and safe environment for your students to be their true, authentic selves? Inclusiveness and safety are built by listening -- listening to your students' needs and what THEY want out of the program. I take my students on a tour of our facility every year. As we walk, we review what other students have asked for/created in previous years. When we get to the end we ask them for new ideas, things they want to be able to do, and contests they want to get involved in. This creates a culture of students who want to be there because the program is accessible to them and what they want. 


What advice do you have for new teachers about being their true and authentic selves in the classroom? Why is that so important? The kids can see right through fairness and lack of sincerity. Be you, show them the love you have for agriculture and the love you have for them reaching success. They just want to belong, to be loved and be part of a family, and agriculture programs can and do provide all of those things.


What is your advice to the ag ed profession to make ag ed a welcoming place for everyone? The ag ed profession is welcoming! I think this past year really proves that! Between ag ed discussion boards and people sharing curriculum left and right, the family aspect, as we try to navigate the pandemic, has been unprecedented and unbelievable. I hope that we continue to utilize mentor programs nationwide and continue the willingness of sharing to help our colleagues.