A Challenge or a Time for Change?

By: Mallory Ford, Bakersfield-Frontier HS

As I left work the day our school closed due to the COVID-19 concerns, my anxiety was high. I am only a second year teacher, how would I deal with this? When I stopped and really thought about it, I realized no teacher has ever experienced anything like this. We really are all in this together. Now is the time to draw together, rather than hoard our new ideas, that just so happen to conveniently come to us as we begin to drift off to sleep – or is that just me? When I got to thinking about this challenging situation, I realized that this is really a great opportunity.  So here are a few ideas our agriculture department has recently implemented. Hopefully, they inspire you or challenge you to try something new during this time. 

We, like many of you, have fought the fight with other teachers, counselors, and administrators on campus who may not realize we teach science courses that earn students A-G credit, Lab D science requirements, along with all the other amazing things our agriculture programs offer. After brainstorming as a department, we made the decision to do something new and take a huge step for our program as much as it might seem small to others. We realized we never truly communicated the opportunities and benefits that our agriculture program offers to students on our campus with our counseling team and other key members on campus. Last  September, we hosted a counselor’s lunch, where we invited our assistant principal and all school counselors to visit with us. 

During our lunch conversation, we busted the most common myths we know of, that individuals on our campus and in our community truly believe about our agriculture program. Some of the myths we shared included: students must have a livestock project, it is an expensive class and program to be a part of, students can not play sports and be in ag, students can not be involved with other clubs on campus, students can not be in AP or Honors too, and we are just farmers. Aside from myth busting we also broke down the structure of Agricultural Education, the pathways, industry certifications, and scholarship opportunities available. A very similar conversation or lesson per se our freshmen students need to understand the basics of our program when they first join. This still stands to be one of the best and most powerful changes we made this year for our agriculture program, it was a huge success! I strongly encourage you to try something similar on your campus as the impact is well worth the time. 

While my department and I were able to have valuable face to face conversations with counselors about our program, we began to realize that it was not enough to share the great things our program is doing with just those invested adults and other students on our campus. We began to realize that our recruitment tactics needed to change. How does all of this tie together? In such a tech savvy culture, we have been brought back to the basics during quarantine, where we must create a curriculum for our students that requires minimal internet. At first it was irritating, but then we began to not see it as a challenge but more of an opportunity for change. We even began to apply it to other areas of our program. What was wrong with paper based content or old fashioned recruitment methods? What is wrong with recruitment postcards or flyers? Nothing, but we jumped on the technology bandwagon quickly. I 100% agree technology has so many benefits and has allowed us to do amazing things for our classroom, FFA Chapter and agriculture program, but we do not have to make a choice to go paper based or digital. 

Our department is actively using this time to recharge and rethink the way we recruit for our program. As one closure led to an extended closure to an end of the year closure, we faced the realization that there would be no chance to engage and reach incoming 8th grade students for our program. This is scary, as 85% of my course load is freshmen, what would my job look like if we do not have freshmen students when the 2020-2021 school year starts? I am fortunate to have driven and passionate teaching partners who also are concerned about what next year looks like for our program, due to our lack of freshmen registration nights and a freshmen orientation. 

In terms of making a change, our department printed vinyl banners to promote our agriculture program in the neighborhoods our students live in. Our goal is that students will see these banners and head to our website to sign up for our freshmen science course or our agriculture communications class next school year. In addition, our school site sent out registration packets to every incoming freshman which allowed us to put a flyer in the hand of every student, something we were never able to do before. This flyer highlights what our program offers; innovation, technology, career skills, science curriculum, hands-on laboratory skills, student leadership, A-G College Prep courses, career ready certification and dual enrollment courses. At the bottom of the form we also included our Chapter’s website and a QR Code to scan that takes students right to a registration form.

Now printing banners, creating QR codes, and other electronic communications may stem from that fact we are mandated to Shelter in Place, but it has become more than that. Many people may see program recruitment during this time as a challenge, we have chosen to see it as an opportunity to change the way our agriculture program promotes and sells itself. This uncomfortable and unknown situation has allowed us to evaluate the way we reach our incoming students. This challenge has only given us the value of time to strengthen our recruitment strategies that we can use year after year. So take a look at the opposite side of the coin for a change and see how your program can benefit in these current unknown circumstances.

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