May 08, 2014
Agriscience students and their teacher work in the class garden at Ashford High School. From left are Alyssa Hamm, teacher Donya Holland, Sheyanne Money, Michael House and Justin Outlaw.
Market demand for high school agriscience education teachers in Alabama is high, and a shortcut for qualified graduates with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture is helping fill the need.
The Alternate Baccalaureate Certification (ABC) program allows college graduates with an agriculture degree to transition into teaching. Donya Holland, an agriscience teacher at Ashford High School, is among a handful of teachers who took advantage of ABC.
With degrees in agricultural economics and animal and dairy sciences from Auburn University, Holland said she never dreamed of being a teacher. A substitute-teaching job at Rehobeth Elementary School in 2005 led her to a new career as an agriscience teacher.
“After college, I worked for ConAgra and Perdue as a broiler rep,” Holland said. “When I started a family, I wanted to have more time with my kids and decided I needed to make a change. While I was substitute teaching, my resume fell into the right hands, and I was able to start teaching agriscience. It has been more rewarding than I ever dreamed it would be.”
Jacob Davis, state supervisor for agriscience education with the Alabama State Department of Education, said school systems use the ABC approach to hire a qualified candidate who then has three years to successfully complete necessary exams and online courses.
Holland completed that work and was certified within the three-year requirement. She teaches agriscience, fish and wildlife management, greenhouse management, and sports and turf grass management. She also is the FFA advisor at Ashford High School. She said she found her niche.
“I love what I’m doing,” Holland said with a grin. “It’s a challenge, but when I see I’ve made a difference in a kid’s life, it is so worth it.”
There are 310 teachers in agriscience education in Alabama, and there are at least five openings right now, Davis said.
“I’ve seen the largest amount of turnover for teachers this year,” Davis said. “A lot of teachers have reached retirement age, and I expect more of that in the next couple years. Plus, agriscience teachers can get jobs in other segments of the industry, and we’ve seen some of them leave for other ag-related careers. There are a lot of opportunities outside of teaching that can attract them away from the classroom.”
A shrinking pool of students seeking agriscience education degrees compounded the teacher shortage.
Auburn University is the state’s only university that still offers an agriscience education major. Alabama A&M closed its program last year. Davis said the trend appears to be turning around.
“We have seen an increase in agriscience majors enrolled at Auburn; in fact, it’s about doubled in the last five years,” Davis said. “But that will take a while to show results. In the meantime, retirements continue to create more openings.”
Davis said Alabama’s shortage is part of a national trend resulting from less emphasis being placed on career tech programs, including agriscience.
“We’re seeing that trend reverse now,” he said. “There is a renewed emphasis in the skilled trades. A college education isn’t for everyone, and statistics prove that. Even for those students who take career tech and decide to go to college, they still learn things that will help them throughout their lives.”
Davis said it took several years of downsizing the program to create the dilemma, so it will take a while to build it back up.. “Fortunately, we’ve had a lot of support from organizations like Alfa and the Farmers Federation, plus a lot of support from the governor and the Legislature,” Davis said. “Turning it around is a slow process.”
For more about the ABC program, contact Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org or (334) 242-9114.