High school agriculture class? Is that even still taught? The answer is a resounding yes – across the country and in North Carolina. And high school agriculture classes are found in more than NC’s rural counties. North Carolina teaches agriculture as part of the Career & Technical Education (CTE) program which prepares students with job-ready skills for work and higher education. Agriculture CTE classes are taught as part of career academies in more than 270 schools in North Carolina, for good reason.
Demand for skilled workers in NC’s agriculture industry is strong. The $85 billion ag industry employs over 16% of NC’s workforce, trailing only education and healthcare. Some students are job-ready after finishing high school, but for many, CTE classes direct their interests towards secondary education degree paths like those offered at NC State.
NC State’s Crop and Soil Sciences recently hosted a specialized training opportunity for high school agriculture teachers from across the country with the Curriculum for Agriculture Science Education (CASE) Institute. “We were delighted to open our soils lab for training these educators. CASE’s certification program is top-notch,” said David Crouse, NC State Crop and Soil Sciences Director of Undergraduate Programs. The “Introduction to Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources” program was developed in conjunction with agriculture industry leaders such as John Deere, Cargill, and General Mills, and it serves teachers their continuing education credits in deep-dive fashion.
The 8-day resident program held at NC State put teachers behind the desk, for a change, conducting inquiry-based experiments, taking notes, and drawing data conclusions just as their future students will do. With the guidance of nationally certified instructors, teachers experienced the science and learned how to incorporate it into their classrooms. Did the experiments work? What other faculty could they include with math or science concepts? How can students follow these agriculture interests into careers?
NC State’s CASE Institute event provided over a week for teachers to research, collaborate, and answer these questions. The CASE curriculum consisted of seven units on topics ranging from agribusiness, biological science, environmental science, and animal care. Each unit provided detailed, STEM-driven labs illustrating scientific concepts concretely. Teachers learned to instruct on extracting plant DNA, harnessing precision GPS, and testing drinking water quality. For high school? Definitely. And it was all hands-on, action-oriented lab activities designed to ignite student interest in the possibilities of agriculture.
Growing Career Choices
The final element of the CASE program focused on agriculture career pathways and recognizing the demand for agriculture in everyday life – in developed and developing nations. After all, everyone eats. Teachers also learned to connect student interests with jobs via a Career Gallery Walk where they virtually encounter job fields and construct a career portfolio. NC State’s David Crouse presented degree opportunities in Crop and Soil Science, “The world population is growing and the amount of green space for agriculture is limited. It’s one of our grand challenges to solve. It makes Crop and Soil Sciences demand industries,” he noted. And indeed U.S. News & World Report lists soil scientists as one of the most in-demand jobs with industry unemployment below 2%.
NC Ag Teachers Going Above & Beyond
NC teachers from Craven and Wake counties attended this year’s CASE event. Keonté Edmonds, teacher from Heritage High School, noted that at least 50% of his students follow tracks into agriculture careers through their Institute of Agribusiness Leaders Academy. “These inquiry-based learning opportunities engage students and produce graduates who are in demand by business and trades,” he said.
Spending a week living on NC State’s campus was the perfect setting for the rigorous training. “Holding this event at NC State was great. I feel connected to the university and understand their resources. I know who to call if I have questions. We referred four graduates last year to NC State and probably three more this year.” said Caroline Tart. Both Edmonds and Tart attended the event on scholarship which covered the cost of the program and provided needed continuing education credits for the year.
North Carolina’s agriculture curriculum doesn’t currently require CASE certification. “This is a value-add program for these NC teachers,” said NC State’s Agricultural and Human Sciences professor Travis Park. “They are going above and beyond for their students.”
Visit www.case4learning.org for details on the CASE Institute programs nationwide. To learn more about degrees in NC State’s Crop and Soil Sciences and career pathways visit www.go.ncsu.edu/degrees. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to see how Crop & Soil Sciences are #growingthefuture.