Teaching Agriculture During A Pandemic - The West Virginian
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Teaching Agriculture During A Pandemic

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On March 13, 2020, our agriculture classes were in the middle of planning for their banquet, applying for state and national awards and gearing up for the upcoming State Fair of West Virginia.

Enter COVID-19 and like everyone else, our plans changed dramatically, but our students and teachers persisted and have continued, “Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live and Living to Serve” (the FFA motto).

The first challenge we faced was how to handle our Ham, Bacon and Egg Sale. Along with agriculture teachers and extension agents from Greenbrier and Monroe Counties, we decided a virtual sale was the best option and our communities came through in a big way for our students who had worked so hard all year long with their supervised experience programs.

Next to consider was that we couldn’t have an in-person banquet for the first time since 1968. Solution — video a virtual awards banquet outside and create a new Youtube channel (Greenbrier East FFA) so that our member’s efforts could be recognized and seniors officers could feel some sense of closure to their FFA careers.

A virtual state FFA convention followed in which members were able to log on and participate. All of us were still praying to have a State Fair at this point, but that was not to be, so enter our Greenbrier/Monroe Youth Livestock organization and volunteers who did a momentous job organizing a virtual sale for members market animal projects. We cannot thank them enough for all their efforts for our students.

Agriculture teachers now had to create a plan to accomplish our goals both inside and out of the classroom for our students. We started with supervised experience program visits. These began as normal in-person visits, but as the pandemic numbers climbed we decided it was safer for everyone to change to virtual meetings. Advisors made Microsoft Teams appointments with FFA members, who use their Chromebooks or phones, took us on a virtual tour of their SAE projects. No, it’s wasn’t the same, but it helped us make and maintain connections with our students and helped them continue to expand their knowledge and skills.

As school opening neared we were asked to develop lessons that could be downloaded to students’ computers. None of us knew how often we would see our students in person and we wanted to ensure they had the same lessons and information we would have covered in any normal school year. The agriculture teachers in Greenbrier County worked together creating units that would not only deliver the material to students but which would engage them in learning, including hands-on activities that could be done in the classroom or at home.

A good example is the floriculture class. Beth Massey teaches this course at Greenbrier East. Students learn the art of floral production and design, and the business concepts of managing a floral business. The majority of this class is hands-on, so she had to completely rethink how to accomplish it. She created videos of each skill and loaded those to the Google classroom.

The second step was working with a local florist to arrange for students to pick up floral materials for each lesson. Students watched the video, asked questions and discussed the tasks on Google meetings and then video themselves completing the task, sending it to the assignment site on their google classroom.

Since about 80% of the students in this class are remote learners this has worked great and students are learning so much. Others who are in-person learners also watched the videos prior to class so that they had time during the shortened class period to complete their hands-on tasks. Learning by doing is such an important part of what our program does that finding these innovative ways of delivering lessons is so important.

We are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and look forward to having all our students back together soon. We have been able to bring our small animals back to campus since teachers can now come to the school to care for them even if we are in the red and the livestock class is preparing our barn for pigs, goats and calves. The agricultural mechanics students have been in the shop the entire year learning and perfecting welding, electrical, engine and plumbing techniques and natural resources are great at social distancing in the woods behind the school learning tree ID and timber cruising skills.

As we move towards what we consider normal, it’s amazing to look back and think about the new skills teachers and students have learned and will be able to utilize in the long run.

We are better prepared for our global online world, communication skills using multiple media platforms have improved dramatically and we have realized in the face of great challenges we are all capable of overcoming these obstacles.

Most importantly learning has continued and students are preparing for their futures.

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