News Team Ag Ed Seeks To Stem State’s Crisis In Ag Education

Team Ag Ed Seeks To Stem State’s Crisis In Ag Education

Team Ag Ed Seeks To Stem State’s Crisis In Ag Education
April 5, 2007 |

There’s room for one more victory, one more blue-and-gold pennant on the wall of Harold Barrow’s classroom at Smiths Station High School.”I told my kids that when you get all your spaces filled up, it’s time to go,” said Barrow, an ag teacher who has hung more than his share of Future Farmers of America pennants during 25 years of FFA competitions. “They told me, ‘We’re not winning anything this year because you’re not going anywhere,'” Barrow added with a laugh. “I told them, ‘We’ll see about that.'”Barrow is only half joking. With 25 years in, he could easily take his retirement from the Alabama school system, and then scoot just over the state line into Georgia to teach another 10 years to be vested in its retirement system.Who could blame him? With 45 percent of Alabama’s 335 ag teachers eligible for retirement in just five years, the state is headed for a crisis in agricultural education. It’s a crisis the Alabama Farmers Federation is hoping to avert through its efforts with Team Ag Ed, a national campaign to strengthen ag education on a local level through partnerships among educators, businesses, industry and agriculture.Right now, though, the only thing holding Barrow are three teen-agers at home and the fact that Smiths Station’s ag program — with more than 500 students running through it and five ag teachers in all — is the cream of the crop as far as ag programs go in Alabama schools. At Smiths Station, students can choose from horticulture, floriculture, building construction, ag science, fish and wildlife management, landscape design, agricultural welding, small engine repair and new this year, sports and recreation turf management.Elsewhere in Alabama, however, the numbers are not so good. A lack of ag teachers, lack of state staff, lack of funding and a lack of understanding have eaten away at the state’s agriscience program until there’s little left.In just 25 years, Alabama has lost 61 ag teachers. During that same span, Alabama has gone from 375 agriscience programs to just 297, and the number of state staff dwindled from 11 to three. FFA membership has plummeted from 24,849 in 1981 to just 13,347 in 2005 — a loss of 11,502 students. Two county school systems — Russell and Dallas — have no agriscience program. Only two state universities — Auburn and Alabama A&M — now offer agriscience education degrees following the closure of the program at Tuskegee University and the agricultural program at Snead State. “So many people over the years have viewed ag education as a dumping ground for kids,” said Barrow. “If you don’t have that ag background, you don’t understand there are jobs out there with DuPont and other places doing research and in communications. If the kids aren’t introduced to it, they don’t know that it’s there either. We’ve got to change the mindset of people because they don’t understand what an opportunity we have here for kids.”That’s how Federation President Jerry A. Newby felt in October 2005 after hearing Georgia’s superintendant of education tell how Team Ag Ed had helped reverse the downward spiral in her state. “(Mr. Newby) felt like we needed to put a greater focus on agriscience education in the state,” said Paul Pinyan, assistant director of the Federation’s Department of Governmental Affairs. “He wanted us to see what the problems were, and if there was anything we could do to help.”Working in concert with State School Superintendent Dr. Joseph Morton, the Federation hosted an Agriscience Education Summit at its offices in Montgomery in March 2006. The event drew about 40 participants from throughout Alabama, representatives from business, industry, agriculture and education. Dividing into four committees, the group quickly identified strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. A representative from each of those committees was selected for Alabama’s Team Ag Ed Council, which reported the group’s findings.Among those findings…
— The tendency of cost-conscious schools to offer only 9-month contracts instead of the traditional 12-month period compromises the quality of agriscience programs by reducing the amount of time agriscience teachers have to work with students during summer months.
— Without adequate state staff, ag programs languish. Ag teachers lose their contact (or advocate) in Montgomery, and the state loses sight of agriscience education’s needs and progress.
— Universities are failing to recruit teachers interested in agriculture.
— Schools beset by budget cuts often view ag programs with their costly equipment and facilities as expendable or unnecessary.
— Agriscience education is often wrongly perceived as being only about production agriculture — or, as one Team Ag Ed committee member put it — sows, cows and plows. Many don’t know that it also teaches skills like welding, landscaping, ag mechanics, etc.Yet, just one year after Team Ag Ed launched in Alabama, there are already signs of progress. In January 2007, Team Ag Ed celebrated the hiring of Philip Paramore as education specialist — the first addition to the state staff in more than a decade.Other successes include: FFA membership numbers are up; Auburn University is seeing a dramatic increase in students pursuing a degree in ag education; an alternative baccalaureate program which will allow students with a four-year ag degree to begin teaching immediately is already helping stem the impending teacher shortage; and a $5 million line item for career tech education has been included in Gov. Bob Riley’s budget for 2008. That line item will include funding to provide an opportunity to put quality ag teachers back on 12-month contracts.Why should Alabama care about agriscience programs?
Newby knows why. “It is so important to Alabama and every state because it provides valuable training for all students, but especially for those who are not going on to college,” he said. “It shows them career possibilities and helps produce productive citizens. Many of these students would drop out of school if it weren’t for the agriscience programs. For those who do go on to college, the program provides leadership training.”And Barrow over at Smiths Station puts it even more succinctly. “Why wouldn’t anybody think an agriculture class is important?” he wonders aloud. “When you poke your feet under the dinner table, somebody had to grow that food!” For more information about Team Ag Ed, contact Philip Paramore at (334) 242-9114 or email

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