California Department of Education Update, July 2020

By: Charles Parker, California Department of Education, State FFA Advisor

Today, I truly believe that CHANGE is now the normal. Each time we move forward we find a new set of doors to select. Do we take the door with the ocean view? The door with Yosemite? The door with a classroom? The door with the farm? No matter which door we take, it is most certainly going to be a surprise when we pull it open.

In navigating the rooms that we leave, we can consider the problems we encountered and what we were not able to do. Or, we can find that silver lining and focus on what was accomplished. To this end, I want to take some time to be extremely thankful.

I am thankful that

  • I am in a profession that has dynamic individuals with creative minds.
  • Friends and colleagues continue to provide encouraging notes and calls.
  • Agriculture teachers took on the challenge and continued to provide opportunities for students.
  • FFA Chapters found ways to recognize student accomplishments through virtual banquets and elect new officers.
  • Community leaders stepped up and continued to support students and their supervised experience programs by developing online auctions.
  • I work with a staff that cares about the profession, cares about teachers, and makes every effort to do what is right for students.
  • I have a partner that listens without judgement to my many rants.
  • I am thankful that I chose to be an Agricultural Educator.

Looking at what I have to be thankful for provides me with the motivation to continue the fight. With a caring staff and teachers, I do not need an energy drink, their supportive comments and guidance allows me to rise each morning with a zeal for life.

Now, I realize that the world is not filled with happy faces. Yes, we most certainly need to address some difficult issues. We must have deep conversations where we can become vulnerable, consider others opinions, and make compromises.  

What are we doing in the coming weeks? Hopefully working to meet whatever is behind the next door we open. Some items currently at the top of the to-do list include: 

  1. A committee to develop recommendations for revisions to the Agricultural Incentive Grant.
  2. A task force on Inclusion and Diversity looking at how Agricultural Education can be a leader.
  3. Staff reviewing the fall semester schedule for State Officers and programs to meet the needs of the students.
  4. Local schools trying to figure out what the future classroom looks like and how to reopen schools.
  5. National FFA releasing details on how they will deliver a virtual National Convention with workshops, a Blue Room, speakers, concerts, business sessions, an Expo, and much more.

Moving forward we need to ask tough questions, hold each other accountable, and be ready for what lies behind the next door we open. So, are you prepared to open a door that lies in front of you?

Enjoy what is your summer break and stay prepared for what comes next…

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

Our Expectations

By: Michael Jaquez, Teacher, Mira Monte High School

As agricultural educators, we are tasked with creating engaging learning environments, providing mentorship and encouragement for our students, offering opportunity for premier leadership, and supporting students in their future endeavors so that they can achieve success. We must provide quality education to all of our students. These expectations of agriculture teachers are carried out in controlled settings like the classroom, in the shop, or at the school farm. We provide our students with the time and resources that are required to complete the learning task being asked of them. If lab equipment is needed, we provide it. If technology is required, we provide it. If basic needs are not met at home, we provide it. With the reality of a mandated stay-at-home quarantine, our students are no longer in controlled academic learning environments. Our expectations of educators and students must be modified to reflect the reality of the COVID-19 crisis.

My school site serves a population of students who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, so oftentimes students cannot afford to buy additional supplies for their classes, require free or reduced lunch, and primarily take the bus as their main form of transportation to and from school. At my school site, students are provided with a safe place, basic needs, and quality education. Virtually all students receive breakfast, lunch, and an after-school snack. If students need to stay after school for any reason such as a chapter meeting, sports practice or tutoring, there is a late bus that students can take so that they can get home. It is difficult for school staff members to begin to know what type of homelife students have. Once students leave school, will students be provided with the basic needs they require? Educators may never know the full extent of a student’s life outside of the classroom. 

Once students leave school, they are no longer in a controlled environment; they may not have their basic needs met at home. Schools are no longer open for students, and even though meals are still provided, and sometimes technology and the internet, the environment students are in may not be equivalent to that of their school. They might not feel safe, their parents may not have jobs anymore, and they might have lost someone important to them. Our expectations for our students must reflect the uncertainty of each students’ home situation. We cannot simply take our curriculum and convert it into a distance-accessible format, without considering the setting our students may be in. Educators must think of the wellbeing of their students first, and how to best present course content second. There should be more encouragement and support for students, and less pressure placed on them to academically perform as they did in a school setting. Grading should reflect what is currently going on in our country, because all students respond to hardship in various degrees. Good things that are happening should be shared, because it may be the only positive thing our students hear. Making the necessary changes to our curriculum delivery can be what makes this difficult time less difficult for students. 

As agricultural educators, we are asked to do a lot, but we do it because we understand the wealth of knowledge and experiences that come from this type of education, and the life-long learning that leads our students toward success. The expectation of an agriculture teacher is currently much different than it has ever been before, but we must embrace the challenge and continue to provide our students with the resources they need, a space to learn, opportunity for leadership and the encouragement required to propel them toward success.

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

Sacramento Scene: Perspective and Gratitude

By: Matt Patton, CATA Executive Director

Perspective 

Two months ago the outlook for California Agricultural Education looked desolate. Funding for all Career Technical Education (CTE) specialty programs faced a 50% cut. These cuts specifically targeted the Agricultural Incentive Grant (AIG), Career Technical Education Incentive Grant (CTEIG) and the K-12 Strong Work Force (K-12 SWF) grants. Universally, K-14 schools and universities all faced 10% reductions in general operating funds. The cancellation of the State FFA Leadership Conference threatened to financially bankrupt the organization. California FFA students were in jeopardy of losing all Career Development Events (CDE) and Leadership Development Events (LDE). Finally, the cancellation of the 101 California Agricultural Teachers’ Association (CATA) conference symbolized the termination of the last semblance of normalcy in our profession for the year. 

As we approach mid-July, the landscape of agricultural education in California looks much different. The California FFA successfully completed all delegate business, elected six new state officers, virtually celebrated the accomplishments of the membership, and culminated the year’s events with a virtual celebration. Many CDE’s and LDE’s were successfully completed via distance. The California FFA Association’s budget closed out the fiscal year in the black. AIG, CTEIG, and K-12 SWF all have been restored in the budget signed by the Governor prior to the July 1 deadline.  Lastly, CATA successfully completed a virtual conference that included teacher recognition, organizational business, and professional development. 

We are fortunate in the way things played out, taking into consideration the current events of California and to a greater degree the world. Special thanks go out to all of you who helped navigate the spring of 2020. 

Gratitude

Thank you to the ag teachers of California that figured out how to engage students from a distance, keep  school farms functioning, put on CDE events, replaced the experience of cancelled livestock shows and sales, coach CDEs and LDEs, facilitate section, regional, and state CATA events, while simultaneously attending to the needs of your own families. 

Gratitude to the CATA Governing Board for meeting weekly to make the difficult decisions needed to move the profession forward. Thank you for always thinking of the best way to serve the teachers and students that you represent. 

The FFA Adult Board met twice a month to insure the financial stability of California FFA. Your guidance in the face of a potentially catastrophic financial situation was invaluable and truly appreciated. 

State Staff was asked to do more than ever this spring. Thank you for moving regional and sectional function to the digital world, supporting students and teachers and providing stability in an uncertain environment.

Big props to the FFA Center Staff for going above and beyond to meet the changing needs of the students and teachers that we serve. Processing refunds for numerous events, coordinating and shipping of awards all over California, and providing answers to the numerous questions that came into the Center. 

Also thank you to teacher educators, CATIP coordinators and mentors, FFA Foundation Board and staff, and everyone else that pulled together to get us through the spring. Your efforts and hard work was noticed and has paid off. 

Next fall could be more challenging than the spring, potential budget cuts loom, there is uncertainty in the structure of school schedules, possible limits on teacher and student travel, and the uncertainty of public health guidelines all make the new school year uncertain at best. What is known is that ag education will continue to adapt and innovate to meet the needs of our students, schools, communities, and state.

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Matt Patton, Executive Director, California Agricultural Teachers’ Assn.mpatton@calagteachers.org209 744-1605

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

Year Two – Distance Learning, Say What?

By: Sierra Hawkesworth, Agricultural Educator, Foothill High School

As a young agricultural educator, we find ourselves in times of trials and tribulations on almost a daily basis. We finish final student teaching and are desperately seeking the next steps in our career path. We find ourselves in job interviews, accepting job offers, and signing contracts. The excitement sets in with having our very first classroom. Areas are designated as the turn in area, supply area, bulletin boards, storage, lab stations, and more. Days turn into weeks, weeks into quarters, and quarters into semesters. In that first year, we have created relationships, built teams, grown as educators, and watched our students grow alongside us. We have just begun to find our place within our new school, chapter, and department. Year two comes hurling at us faster than we expected. More responsibilities begin to be added to the plate, yet we are prepared, being a bit more grounded than the year prior. What none of us were ready for was March of 2020. 

Rolling into spring semester as an agricultural educator is hectic. There are field days to plan for, speaking contests, state conference, banquets, and more. Our families and spouses know after February 1, they will hardly see us again until May 15. We are programmed to understand this lifestyle, yet what we weren’t prepared for was a term that has been thrown our way the few months more times than we can count, “Distance Learning”. In a matter of weeks, the entire state went from on campus, face-to-face teaching to almost 100% virtual communication. Social distancing and a pandemic hit our country like a wave crashing to shore. Yet, here I am as a second year teacher still feeling a bit unsure in my practices, curriculum and confidence in teaching, to now have to modify everything that has been done to accommodate technology and no face-to-face interaction. How is this to be expected? How do I move forward? As agricultural educators we are lucky to have the community that shares and helps in any way they can. So as a second year teacher what can I do to help myself, my fellow teachers, and my students make this adjustment as seamless as possible? The first item I must master is virtual communication. 

Virtual Communication

Communication is a key factor into making virtual teaching successful. Luckily, I already use technology within my classroom which  made this transition from classroom to online easier for my students. Google Classroom is something my students had used on a weekly basis the first three quarters of the school year. They were already familiar with how it operates, where to look for updates as well as turning in assignments. Using this platform was the easiest transition for my students. Yet questions began to arise of how I was going to continue to provide content, lecture, host discussion, encourage interaction, and conversation among my students. Virtual meetings were necessary and there are a handful of platforms that make this possible.The first option I utilized with my students was Google Meet. It allows students to join and see each other face to face, have interactions, provides myself a way to give context to assignments that have been posted, answer questions and more. The next suggestion I received for reaching students on different platforms was creating an Instagram account that was specifically for my classes. I created this account to provide information, links and more to my students in an efficient and effective manner. It also allows me to engage with my students in a more carefree, relaxed setting. It also allows them to come together virtually as friends and create posts for the photo challenges. 

Consistency

Consistency is something that the students now lack in their daily lives. They cannot leave the house, they cannot see their friends, they cannot do the task that they were used to seeing on a daily basis. If this is something that we as advisors can continue to provide the students with, then it may just help ease the struggle of transitioning to this new reality. By making meeting times the same from week- to- week, keeping assignments due on the same day from week-to-week, having office hours consistently and being there when they need us, students will prosper. It is an uncertain time for us all, but consistency will not only help the students, but also us as educators. 

Compassion

Compassion is one item that this world needs the most of right now. Showing compassion to our students during this difficult time will allow them to feel cared for. It will show them how to be compassionate towards others and begin to build a healthy culture not only within your classes, but among their friends and family. Being in their home 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with the same people is going to cause tension. By allowing these students to come to you during their class sessions using different platforms will allow them a break. You showing that compassion and checking in on their wellbeing will allow them to start breaking down their emotions and easing the anxiety they are holding in.  

Virtual communication, consistency, and compassion make this time of difficulty easier. Utilizing applications such as Google Meet and Google Classroom, Instagram, and more will help students feel connected. Our students need us to be consistent and compassionate with all the chaos happening in the world. They are scared and uncertain of all that is appearing on social media. If we can create consistency in their life pertaining to school then it might help ease the tension. In the end, all we can do as professionals is come together, use the resources we have available and to end this year in the most positive way for our students, making sure they know that someone cares.

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