South Newton and North Newton High School agriculture departments have a grant way beyond six-figures to develop courses teaching precision agriculture to high school students. They're in the process of designing the courses, and have already purchased some UAVs and equipment for tractors to train students about how to operate and maintain these systems. Look for those two programs to be models for teaching agriculture technology in the future.
At Hagerstown High School the vo-ag department has a grant to study the behavior of livestock, specifically cattle, using high-tech sensors. The goal is to follow their movements as they graze and learn about their habits. The cattle in their program become ground beef for the high school cafeteria – a unique program that is teaching students and adults alike about the economics and value of animal production. And at Owen Valley High School near Spencer, students operate and make all the decisions on a goat herd at a facility operated solely by students.
Meanwhile at last count there were roughly 20 schools in Indiana alone still looking for a qualified person to teach agriculture for this school year. That's after many schools over the past two years have hired teachers without teacher training on an emergency basis. Those teachers must complete a transition to teaching program in three years to maintain a teaching license.
Several schools have begun or tried to start new programs. Beech Grove in the Indianapolis suburbs has a three-teacher department after only about five years teaching agriculture, emphasizing science. Mooresville High School in central Indiana restarted an ag program this year. Other schools which have never offered ag are inquiring about how to start a program.
Why? Visionary leaders see the benefit of forward-reaching programs like the ones at South Newton, North Newton, Hagerstown and Owen Valley. They understand that agriculture leads to careers in many fields, and that placement rate is high. They are the leaders who realize ag education isn't now, hasn't been for some time, and likely won't be again just about preparing students to go back to farm.
So where are the teachers? Some say they're being siphoned off by industry which offers more pay. Others say changing rules about how teachers are evaluated and compensated is taking its toll on all of education, including the ag teaching profession.
Still others point to the fact that today many teachers leave after three to five years to raise a family. Some become frustrated with long hours, discipline issues, school bureaucracy and the like. Many people point out that there simply aren't enough young people going into ag education programs at universities to train to become teachers.
It's no secret that in recent years several young people have chosen out-of-state schools rather than Purdue if they are interested in ag education. Many times they come back to Indiana to teach, but not always. We hear reports that Purdue is strengthening its ag education program, and we hope that makes a difference.
As you can tell, there are more questions than answers. How do we entice more kids to train to become the people that work with high school students of the future, teaching them with modern technology about how agriculture will work in the future?
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It seems as if we are at a transition point between vo-ag instruction of yesterday and ag science and technology instruction needed today and in the future. Let's hope leaders at all levels recognize it's important to work out the kinks and entice more young people to become ag teachers, and stay in the profession. It's a key to the future growth of the agriculture industry.