The Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech is awarding $60,000 to three high school agriculture teachers to develop programs that prepare students for 21st century agriculture careers.

“We are excited to be able to work with agriculture teachers that are pushing traditional boundaries to broaden students’ education and career opportunities,” said Donna Westfall-Rudd, an associate professor and Virginia Agricultural Education Centers of Innovation project leader. 

The Virginia Agricultural Education Centers of Innovation grant provides financial and professional support to award-winning agriculture teachers to develop innovative educational programs. This grant is made possible by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and matching funds from the Virginia Tech Foundation funds for Community Viability.

The education programs prepare students for jobs that lead to high-skill, high-demand careers in agricultural fields. Programs also prepare students for admission to colleges or technical training programs.

“Innovative agricultural education projects are intended to promote agriculture by incorporating new ideas and technologies that will promote skill building and creative problem solving,” said Westfall-Rudd.

Katie Reames of Eastern View High School in Culpeper, Virginia, said she plans to purchase new technology to use in animal science courses. The goals are to save paper at Eastern View High School and give students a chance to use a flipped classroom, she said. 

New Google Chromebooks and Google Classroom will help students learn a commonly used veterinary software. Reames said she hopes these job-ready skills will increase co-ops, job shadowing, and industry certifications.

Holston High Schools’ Sarah Scyphers plans to build a facility in Washington County that will provide students an excellent environment to work hands-on with housing and managing livestock and earning several certifications. 

Scyphers’ plans include purchasing lab equipment that also can be used for investigations by the school’s science students. Scyphers said she is excited about the co-curricular possibilities that the new facility will bring to her students. 

Jason Burgard will be overseeing the Floyd County High School Summer School Farm Program. Students will work and run the fully functional farm during the summer for course credit. Students will earn several certifications while gaining valuable hands on experience on the farm. 

Students also will market their products at the local farmers market. Local farmers will serve as guest speakers and host field trips for the group.    

These award-winning teachers join three previous winners of the Virginia Agricultural Education Centers of Innovation grant. 

John Carpenter, Carroll County Middle School agriculture teacher, helped design a mobile Handi-Bot CNC machine that would be effective and affordable for school-based agriculture programs. Carpenter regularly includes CNC technology in his program, which teaches students work-related skills and confidence with new industrial technology.

Halifax County High School’s agriculture teacher, Jon Chandler, has his students developing an online agribusiness. Students develop skills through hands-on design and production of products that will be sold to fund the Halifax County Therapy Garden. 

The garden is a collaborative project with the Halifax Master Gardeners to provide easy and safe access to a variety of plants. Chandler’s students will build raised planting beds designed for people with disabilities to enjoy planting and growing their own flowers. 

Heidi Davis has Massaponox High School students working to earn their Beef Quality Assurance certifications. Students will build animal management shoots for their shoot side training. Davis will purchase a portable head shoot that can be used throughout the region for community activities and training. 

The Virginia Agricultural Education Centers of Innovation grant is a result of a Virginia Department of Education strategic review of agriculture education conducted in 2013. 

Agriculture educators should prepare students for entry-level jobs that lead to high-skill, high-demand careers in agriculture and agriculture related fields, according to the report. Students also should also prepare through relevant and rigorous course work.