Bridging the Gap. Connecting Secondary and University Programs to Grow the Next Generation

Article excerpt

Recruiting new teachers. Recruiting students. Rigor and relevance in the classroom. Dual credit and post secondary connections. If it's not one thing, it's six others, or so it seems. All of these issues and topics are vital to the continued success and growth of agricultural education nationwide. So which one to choose, prioritize? The next question is, do we have to?

In a small state with relatively few agricultural education programs and even fewer teacher educators, Idaho has had the opportunity to be creative in student recruitment and retention at the secondary and post secondary levels while addressing state and federal requirements to maintain high quality programs. Idaho implemented a Teach Ag workshop in conjunction with the State FFA Leadership Conference in 2007 as a recruitment activity (Touchstone, Swan, & Riesenberg, 2009b) similar to the efforts going on across the country. The next school year, the University of Idaho, in conjunction with the Idaho Vocational Agriculture Teachers' Association and the State Division of Professional Technical Education established a Dual Credit program that directly linked our landgrant university with the secondary agricultural education programs in the state. As a part of the Dual Credit program, one class is Survey of the Expectations and Responsibilities of Teaching High School Agriculture, otherwise known as The Bridge Project (Touchstone, 2010; Touchstone, Swan, & Riesenberg, 2009a). The purpose of this course is to bridge the gap between high school students considering becoming agriculture instructors and a teacher educator in the University of Idaho Department of Agricultural and Extension Education.

Although these three activities may seem to have little in common except the time of their inception, they are integrally connected in their implementation and meeting state and national goals related to education and teacher recruitment. Idaho's Team Ag Ed has been directly involved in the development of each of these programs and their long term success. The Teach Ag workshop is conducted annually by the teacher educators from the University of Idaho. However, it is an invitation only workshop at State FFA Leadership Convention. The local instructors are asked to submit the names of two high quality students who might be interested in becoming ag teachers. These students receive a personalized invitation to participate in the workshop where university administration, faculty, students, IVATA leadership, state staff, and FFA members discuss the need for quality agriculture instructors and the long term benefits related to being a secondary agriculture instructor. Students are encouraged to consider the profession by all of the presenters and are expected to ask questions of the professionals in Idaho Agricultural Education.

The Dual Credit program offers coursework in animal systems; plant systems; agribusiness systems; power, structural and technical systems; as well as agricultural education, which align directly with the national clusters project and state and nationally recognized pathways ("Career Pathways," 2010; Touchstone, 2006). Secondary instructors MUST be affiliated in one of the technical agriculture areas to teach those courses, but all instructors are eligible to enroll students in agricultural education coursework. The Bridge Project is designed to allow potential agriculture instructors to get a taste of the profession while still in high school, allowing them to make more informed enrollment decisions. Previous research has shown that students attending the University of Idaho with an initial major in agricultural education have the highest college degree completion rate of any initial major in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (Braun, 2004; Touchstone & Riesenberg, 1997).

When participating in the Bridge Project, students are required to tutor other students, teach a lesson (or portion of a lesson), conduct a research project and write a paper, assist in coaching an FFA CDE team, as well as attend district teacher meetings or activities. …