During the 2013-2014 school year, Atwater High School, in Atwater, California, became the single-largest agriculture program in the United States, with more than 900 high school agriculture students -- more than half of the student body at Atwater. In a school where the majority of students are from low-income families without a background in agriculture, the program at Atwater offers students experiences in agriculture otherwise not possible.
To meet the demands of that many students, seven full-time agriculture instructors manage Atwater's program. This allows each teacher to specialize in his or her strengths and provide students with agricultural experiences that best suit their interests. Together, the teachers at Atwater offer 24 agriculture courses to their students, ranging from Floral Design to Agricultural Government.
"As a department, we want to make a positive difference in the lives of young people and get students involved," said Dave Gossman, one of Atwater's agriculture teachers.
The agriculture department at Atwater High School can attribute its recent growth to the teachers' unwavering dedication to promoting the significance of agricultural education. They have gained the support of their school's administration as well as the support of their students' families and members of the Atwater community.
"We have been able to create positive and productive relationships with our campus administration, counselors, and staff because when they provide an 'investment' in student enrollment, they get a positive return through quality curriculum, test scores, and overall student achievement and success," added Gossman.
The support and buy-in for their program is a direct result of the teachers actively participating in the leadership and direction of the school. They are early adopters of the Common Core transition aligning their courses with core science standards -- a process that is still being developed for complete implementation in the state of California.
Atwater agriculture teachers have also used their course offerings as a means to develop partnerships within the community, allowing students the opportunity to experience agriculture outside of the regular classroom. A local family with ties to the Atwater agriculture program allows students to house more than 50 livestock animals at their farm annually for their Supervised Agriculture Experiences. It is partnerships and relationships like this that allow Atwater to continue to grow and expand the number of students they are able to reach and support.
Atwater is a great example of how students who feel supported beyond the walls of the classroom "buy in" to the program, which can produce extraordinary results. For more information about Atwater's program, please visit this link.
Atwater was selected as the 2014 Region I Outstanding Middle/Secondary Agricultural Education Program. The OMSP award is sponsored by Monsanto and AGCO.
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