Thursday, June 5, 2014

Colorado Adventures: Reflecting back on the 2nd Annual Teach Ag! Society Domestic Study Away (#teachagDSA14)

At the beginning of our adventure!
What is service learning? That’s the question Penn State Teach Ag! Society set to answer on an eight day, 1000 mile trip around the great state of Colorado. Teaming up with Boulder Valley Career and Technical Center Agriscience Teacher Heather Riffel and her program, we were able to learning about the process Boulder Valley went through to gain a USDA Farm to School Grant, the grant that made much of their work in the community possible. After months of coordination on Heather’s part, raised-bed school gardens were installed in nearly all of the elementary schools in the district. In order for each elementary school to earn the privilege of having the garden, teachers within the school were required to commit to integrating concepts in class and invest sweat equity in developing a sustainability plan.

We found our answer to what service learning should look like, but what we came home with was so much more than that. I could go on forever about the things we learned and the places we saw, but I tried my best to narrow it down to four primary lessons!

Boulder TEC Students, PSU Students and
Rock Star Ag Teacher Heathr Riffle!
1. The agricultural education community is truly a family.
Through our travels, we met with over half a dozen current or past ag teachers all of whom who truly excited to have us visiting and eager to share their knowledge and expertise. Every teacher had an awesome piece of advice for our arsenals and insisted that each of us contact them should we ever need anything. Agricultural education truly is one big, helpful, crazy family; one that our group is excited to be a part of. I can safely say that each of us added some awesome resources to our professional network, and I am excited to see where they someday lead!

2. The national teacher shortage is a REAL problem.
Every place we went, we were reminded of the teacher shortage that not only Colorado, but most of the country is facing. In Pennsylvania, we are blessed to not current have an immediate teacher shortage, but the forecast of pending retirements does not bode well for that to continue. Luckily, Penn State Students are prepared to teach where ever students are in need of a philosophical sound agriscience program. This was the first time many of our students have seen a state suffering from this first hand. Personally, I hope that my fellow classmates in Ag Ed are inspired to travel to many of these states after graduation as positive agents of change and help relieve the crisis of our national teacher shortage.

2014 Graduate Mike Petrun and
2016 Student Teacher Olivia Murphy-Sweet
droppiing some garden knowledge on 5th graders!
3. Agricultural Education has the potential to impact ALL students. Period. Regardless!
We saw small programs and large programs; rural programs, suburban & urban programs; programs that had students since middle school and some that would only see students for one semester. Regardless of the situation the agriscience teacher was dealing with, their first priority was to create a program that was as effective as possible in meeting the needs of THEIR students for total student success. Programs focused on developing the knowledge, skills and dispositions each of their students. Each program we saw was much different from the rest, but every student that left the program left as a better person, what more can you ask for?

4.The world is a beautiful place that is meant to be explored.
This past year I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel quite a few places, and I can safely say I have yet to spend time in a place as beautiful as Colorado. From the open plains to the scenic Rocky Mountains, each corner we visited was absolutely beautiful. The beauty was not limited to the landsacpe; the people of Colorado are beautiful as well. Everyone we met was friendly and open. Yes, those from Colorado have a different culture, but it just made for a learning experience in a whole new way! This experience has helped me realize how important travel is for both future educators and for my future students. Travel prompts open-mindedness, curiosity and a thirst for knowledge. I hope to be able to take my future students one day when I have the blessing of teaching!

All of this would not have been possible without the generous support of Penn State College of Ag Sciences and the CHS Foundation! We are beyond lucky to have such great partnerships to assist Teach Ag! Society in preparing the best future educators we possibly can!

Written by:
Ms. Jillian Gordon
2014 Teach Ag! Society President
2014 Teach Ag! DSA Chair
2015 Ridgemont (Ohio) Student Teacher