COLUMNISTS

5 things your local ag educator wishes you knew about Wisconsin ag ed

Jennifer Russell
Toby Schreier of the Waupun FFA shows students a pelt in the Wildlife Session at Grantosa Drive Elementary School in Milwaukee as a part of the Waupun FFA Agriculture Day in Milwaukee.

Across the state of Wisconsin, probably even at your local school, amazing things are happening in agricultural education classrooms. Wisconsin’s agricultural educators are working tirelessly to prepare Wisconsin's robust agricultural industry, depending on training the next generation of leaders in the industry. 

Agricultural education programs provide students with the training and experience needed to tackle the challenges that the industry will present as we move forward.  Agricultural education’s three-circle model of the classroom, FFA, and supervised agricultural experiences help prepare students with leadership opportunities, hands-on learning, and real-life problem-solving skills.  

Behind the doors of over 250 classrooms across the state of Wisconsin, there are a few things that your local agricultural educator and FFA advisor wish that everyone knew about their program.  Here are just a few of them.

First, students in agricultural education classes and FFA members are doing amazing things to prepare to be the agricultural industry's future.  As a part of our programs, students work in supervised agricultural experiences (SAE’s). These experiences come in many forms.  They may be traditional programs like working on a local dairy farm or raising livestock for the fair to starting a small business making goat soap, or mowing lawns. 

For students who want a unique experience, conduct agricultural research or diving into the world of agricultural communications by creating websites for their chapter or local agribusiness. Many people don't know that FFA and agricultural education programs are working hard to make sure that all students have these experiences.  Create these experiences helps encourage students to enter the agricultural industry, but everyone can benefit!  Teachers and advisors are looking for placements and mentors to help students with these experiences.

Secondly, the job of an agricultural educator is never-ending, and your help is greatly appreciated. From helping students develop SAEs, teaching a variety of classes, training officers and teams, and planning a local program of activities, the job can seem overwhelming. 

One of the greatest strengths of the Wisconsin FFA and its agricultural education programs is the diversity of opportunity that it provides. While this diversity helps students see all that the agricultural industry offers, it can be overwhelming for teachers to deliver everything that students need. 

Third grade students learn about dairy calves at a hands-on station taught by Hailey Schoenherr. during Agricultural Exploratory Day at Paulsoncredt Farm owned by Alan and Kelly Paulson.

The good news is, there are lots of ways that others can help support local programs.  Hosting farm tours, volunteering to speak to a class, serving as a member of an alumni group or advisory council, or preparing students for a contest are all ways to help your local program. Taking time to volunteer helps students understand the agricultural industry while making stronger connections to the agricultural community.

Teachers also would like you to know that financial support is hard to ask for but necessary to run a successful program. FFA chapters across the state-run successful fundraisers, often selling fruit, cheese, and meat to help pay the costs of chapters.  There are also some fantastic alumni groups across the state who work tirelessly to support chapters. These groups need your help. Teaching tools can be expensive, and school budgets are tight. 

Traveling with students is increasingly challenging, and the cost to take students to events like State and National FFA Convention are often barriers to giving students the best experience possible. The good news is that even small contributions can help. Sponsoring an FFA Jacket for a member or offering to pay for pizza at a chapter meeting can make a big difference in your local chapter. 

Despite what you might hear on the nightly news, teachers also want you to know that great students are excited and passionate about the agricultural industry.  While their skill sets with social media and other forms of technology are different, the future of agriculture is bright because of the passion and dedication that the over 19,000 FFA members from across the state of Wisconsin have for agriculture. 

These members are not only involved in the chapter and state FFA activities, but they also are working hard to provide community services across the state. FFA members are giving back to communities across the state, from sponsoring food drives to cleaning up our local communities.   

Lastly, we are proud of all of our accomplishments, and we need your help to share the message. Following what your local chapter is doing on social media, promoting a local activity, and talking positively about what students are doing in the community are all small things that make a big difference. Take time to tell your local school board members and administrators how important agricultural education programs are in your community.

The future of Wisconsin's agricultural industry is in great hands because of the work done by so many agricultural educators and supporters across the state.  If you don't know about what is happening with your local agricultural education program, I will encourage you to reach out to your local teacher or members. There are lots of ways that you can help support these programs. Chances are you'll see some fantastic work and meet some top-notch students. 

Jennifer Russell

Jennifer Russell is the Agriscience Instructor and FFA Advisor in the Shullsburg School District. She and fellow ag teacher Emma Huber of Tomah were selected to represent Wisconsin as part of the National Teachers Ambassadors for FFA program.