Supervised Agriculture Experience – Is it worth the time and energy?

By: Shay Williams-Hopper, California Department of Education, San Joaquin Region Supervisor

The National Ag Council is currently pushing the “SAE for all” concept. As I pondered “SAE for all,” my original thought was, “I did this.” But, as I sat back and reflected on my career in the classroom, I can honestly say I did not value Supervised Agriculture Experience Projects for all. I valued it for those students who chose livestock projects, or who had ready-made projects at home because of family interests or businesses. Yes, I graded SAE projects as a part of my student’s grades. Yes, I taught about SAE’s and what they could be. Yes, I required every student to write a reflection on their project each year. What I did not do successfully however, was make the connection for my students as to why SAE projects are valuable. 

Supervised Agriculture Experience projects are the ultimate tool for helping students be college and career ready. No other school assignment requires students to invest as much time and energy into financial literacy, global agriculture awareness, career research, and industry connections, all while being encouraged and mentored by teachers, parents, industry professionals, and peers. 

SAE projects need to be promoted from day one in our programs, just like FFA and classroom instruction. The reality is some of our students are not leadership or classroom driven. They are motivated by getting their hands dirty, building connections and learning through hands-on experience. From the beginning, students need to be given the opportunity to experience all that agriculture has to offer. Start by making the time to discuss what options each student has available to them. Survey their resources (transportation, activities, support at home, interests, etc.) and guide them to have a vested interest in an area of agriculture where they can utilize and hone their skills.  

The added bonus to preparing students for college and career readiness through SAE projects is the opportunity to expose our students to financial literacy. We need to be using AET to teach our students how to budget, manage profit and loss, write business agreements and document their progress.  

I encourage you to spend some time exploring options for foundational and immersion SAE projects that can be completed within your school or program. Foundational SAE allows for students to explore their interests while exposing them to the agricultural world and careers surrounding them. They allow students to process what type of immersion SAE they will want to take on in the future, without jumping in blindly. Additional help, lessons, and resources can be found on the National Council for Agricultural Education website here.

These last few months I have had the opportunity to visit programs all over the central valley, and have viewed some amazing SAE implementation for students. Madera South High School has set up a rabbit and cavy barn to house small animal projects for students who otherwise would not be able to show an animal species at the fair. At the Tulare High School Farm, students build and deliver agricultural education curriculum for eight middle school feeder programs in their district. Strathmore High School has created an onsite farmers market where they grow, market and sell items such as sweet corn, pumpkins, and lettuce which are produced on school grounds by students in the program. Students at Madera-Liberty High School create floral arrangements for local service clubs, weddings, and school events, which they then sell. Clovis East High School maintains a fully operational orchard where students assist with production management and then sell the produce at the local farmers market.  Some students have even taken the project a step further by processing school farmed almonds with a candy coating and selling them as a value added product.  

What SAE’s can your students explore with a little guidance from you? The possibilities are endless.  

For more information about the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association, visit http://calagteachers.org/

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