These were the words spoken by my parents last April when I revealed where I had been placed for my student-teaching internship. To be honest, I was expecting a more reassuring response from them spoken in a calmer tone. They were surprised to learn that Milton Hershey School (the world's largest private, residential boarding school located in Hershey, PA) even had an Agriculture Program that was thriving with students from a non-farming background. This fact, however, is what actually drew me to Milton Hershey School. Coming from a very rural school district with a thriving Agriculture Education program and active FFA chapter, I knew I wanted to challenge myself and experience the diversity of Agriculture Education during my student-teaching internship. During the short time that I had the pleasure of teaching at Milton Hershey, I've been fortunate to broaden my understanding of the power of Ag. Ed. Read on to see some of my realizations and observations.
1. A student does not need to grow up in a rural area or live on a farm to take an interest in agriculture. Let's face it--less than 2% of the US population is directly involved in production agriculture and that number is decreasing every year. In order for agriculture to meet the challenges of feeding a growing world, students with a non-agriculture background must be recruited into Agriculture Education. Even in traditionally rural programs, there are fewer and fewer students that were raised on a farm. Diversity of an Agriculture Education program will provide new perspectives and new ideas to help create a solid foundation for the future of agriculture. At Milton Hershey, students take a true interest in the agricultural sciences and eagerly come to class wanting to know more about where their food comes from.
2. Agriculture Education is a successful educational model that can benefit students coming from diverse backgrounds. At Milton Hershey, many students come from various socioeconomic statuses and home-life situations. When given the option to work at the various Agriculture Facilities at the school (such as the Animal Center, Environmental Center, Spartan Ice Cream Shop, or Horticulture Center), students gain a sense of pride and determination in their work. Students have something positive to look forward to day after day and find a reason to become committed to a cause. After speaking to staff, faculty, and students, I have learned that working in an agriculturally-based job has literally turned a student's life around. This is a great example of the positive influence that Agriculture Education can exert on a student's life.
3. Agriculture Education must evolve to meet the demands of the future. Coming from my small corner of the world, I was convinced that every Ag Ed program should teach Animal Science and Plant Science because that was "traditional agriculture" and tradition can't be broken. However, after experiencing a different type of program that needs to meet the demands of a diverse student, I've realized the importance of preparing students for future careers in agriculture. Content that I learned 6 years ago during my high school career is slowly becoming outdated and "old news" in the world of agriculture. Agriculture has evolved to become a cutting edge, high-tech industry that is going to require future employees to have a strong foundation in science, chemistry, and physics. I truly believe that Agriculture Education can meet these demands if programs are proactive rather than reactive when choosing curriculum to be used in the classroom.
I am very thankful to have had the opportunity to student-teach in a program that was vastly different than the "traditional" program that I experienced during high school. I had visited urban and "non-traditional" programs during my education courses, but I didn't understand how each of these programs would function on a daily basis. Milton Hershey allowed me to internalize the day-to-day operation of a non-traditional program and the steps necessary to create a successful program that meets the needs of an urban student population. Teaching in a non-traditional program this early in my career has helped to mold my philosophy of teaching and will allow me to enter the teaching profession with a broader understanding of Agriculture Education.