Since she started teaching agriculture, Carmelita Goossen has turned around a declining program and discovered the power of inquiry-based learning. She's single-handedly created curriculum that draws on both her students' cultural backgrounds and connections with the omnipresent meat industry in her corner of southwest Kansas. She's a certified ESL instructor, a DuPont National Agriscience Teacher Ambassador, and was this year a national candidate for Outstanding New Career and Technical Educator of the Year. That was the first five years. Imagine what she'll do in the next 25.
Goossen, who describes herself as a product of agricultural education, has many passions, but the thing that gets her out of bed and into the classroom day after day is her students. "It's kind of uncovering a hidden treasure, discovering what their interests are," she said. "If you can inspire students to chase their dreams or discover a career they didn't even know existed, that's a wonderful motivation."
Goossen's school, Southwestern Heights High School, in Kismet, Kan., is more than 50 percent Hispanic. That, coupled with Goossen's own experiences as a biracial agricultural education student, gives her a good perspective on how to recognize and include students' cultural backgrounds into her own program.
"You shouldn't be afraid to live culture," she said. "You can't be afraid to talk about it in your classroom. Most of those students, they have the same interests and motivation as all students. Give them the opportunity to share their culture now and then. We are seeing a growing diversity in our classrooms, in our students. We need to figure out how we keep that growing, how to we get them to colleges, careers."
One thing Goossen has found helpful in drawing Hispanic students more fully into her agriculture program is a strong emphasis on SAE's. "In the Hispanic culture, family is such a strong influence," she said. SAE's give Goossen the opportunity to visit students at their homes, meet their parents, talk with them about opportunities and set goals.
Starting Where they Are, Opening the World
Because many of Goossen's students have parents who work in the meat industry, she uses that as a common thread to capture student interest. Throw in a heavy dose of student-driven, inquiry-based learning along with cultural relevancy, and you have the engaging mix that draws students to Goossen's program and keeps them achieving.
"One of my favorite moments in teaching was when a student told me she was studying for a wholesale and retail cut ID test, and her dad pointed to the round and said "I cut that piece off every day," related Goossen.
"If you can identify what are some interests of the students that are within your classroom, you will have success in motivating them to pursue careers," she said. "As the labor force changes demographically, we need individuals who are educated, who can relate to the workforce."
"I hope my students go home and say that agricultural education is more than just learning. It's an experience. Because you're not just reading about opportunities, you're not just reading about and experiment or a career, you're actually doing it. You're practicing it, you're experiencing it."
It should come as no surprise that Goossen was one of NAAE's 2012 Outstanding Young Member award winners. The Outstanding Young Member award is sponsored by John Deere as a special project of the National FFA Foundation. For more information about NAAE awards programs, visit http://www.naae.org/awards/applications/. Award applications for 2013 are due May 15.
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