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Itinerant agriculture classes plant the seeds for student futures

January 6, 2016 | Filed in Archive

Fort Plain freshmen Madison Dunbar and Garret Nare work on a holiday wreath as part of an Intro to Agriculture class under the supervision of HFM BOCES itinerant agriculture teacher Sheri Boardman.

JAN. 6, 2016 – While presentations at September’s Agriculture Education Summit underscored the need and opportunities in “ag-ed” school programs for the region, HFM BOCES Itinerant Services had already placed an agriculture teacher in school districts in the Mohawk Valley.

Teacher Sheri Boardman hopes to help reinvigorate agriculture education through a program of relevant classes in Fonda-Fultonville and Fort Plain Central School Districts. Two courses launched in September, Environmental Science and Introduction to Agriculture, which attracted 78 students from Fonda-Fultonville, Fort Plain and Canajoharie.

Boardman brings her life-long experience and interest in agriculture – she grew up on a dairy farm in Connecticut – and passion for teaching to her plan to develop a program of agriculture courses among HFM BOCES high schools. In Fort Plain, she’s already added one-semester electives in animal science and plant science to her agriculture education schedule.

Boardman attended SUNY Cobleskill before transferring to Cornell University to earn a dual-Bachelor degree in Animal Science and Agriculture Education and her Master’s degree in education.

“I was involved in FFA and 4H as a high school student, and their emphasis on sharing knowledge sparked my interest in becoming a teacher,” Boardman said.

After beginning her career as an agriculture teacher for three years at a regional high school in CT, she moved to upstate New York and now lives on a working dairy farm near Middleburgh. Her itinerant role with HFM allowed her to introduce the curriculum she used in CT and develop new material for the classes here. She has also established FFA chapters in Fort Plain and Fonda-Fultonville.

Boardman’s classes are more than just academic studies. She wants her students to get their hands dirty in projects that teach and serve. Both schools have provided workspace by way of a shop at Fonda-Fultonville and a greenhouse in Fort Plain. On one occasion, she borrowed a John Deere tractor from the Hudson River Tractor Co. in Fultonville for her students to get an up-close look.

“Agriculture is about doing, experiencing life on the land. We don’t intend to just sit in a classroom,” Boardman said. “I want our students to meet working farmers and others who make a life in agriculture.”

She explains the goals of FFA to develop premier leadership, personal growth and career success.

“There are a lot of agriculture-related opportunities out there, and they are looking for young people with professional skills such as public speaking, leadership, critical thinking and problem solving to claim them,” Boardman said. “Our classes provide a sampler, an introduction to the field and the possibilities for students with the desire to go for it.”

In January, Boardman will visit HFM schools to recruit for her next year of classes.

“Students didn’t have a really good idea last year what the classes would offer. We’re ready to do a better job this year,” Boardman said.

As interest and enrollment grows, HFM BOCES is ready to add staff and additional locations, according to Deputy Superintendent Dr. Lorraine Hohenforst. The agriculture focus may be the same as the newly announced Ag-PTECH, which will launch in Sept. 2016, but the similarities end there.

“Our itinerant program is a series of one-subject electives that any high school student can choose. The PTECH model selects ninth grade applicants for a four-six year experience. Both look at agriculture-related topics and career opportunities, but from different perspectives.” Boardman explained. “What we do have in common is a renewal of agriculture education in the region.”

HFM BOCES Itinerant Services provide component school districts with shared instructional, administrative and operational personnel connected with their regular education programs.