By Becky Nelson, SAU#43 Public Relations Specialist
Most ambassadors travel to foreign lands. In Newport, the Ag Ambassador set up base right in the Sugar River Valley Regional Technical and has done her travelling in the States.
Applying for a spot in the National Agriscience Teacher Ambassador Academy, a professional development institute for teachers of agricultural science, Newport’s Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center Agriscience teacher, Deb Stevens, thought she didn’t have a chance of being selected from more than 250 applicants. She said the application process was “rigorous” and included a written statement of personal teaching philosophy and development of three complete lesson plans with associated classroom activities.
The reward at the end of the process was acceptance into the program held at the DuPont Chesapeake Farms facility in Chestertown, Maryland. The first representative to the academy to represent New Hampshire, Stevens, along with twenty-four other trainees “were wined and dined and challenged like I’ve never been challenged before. I’ve never done anything that stretched me like this. These exercises made me think in ways I’ve never thought before,” she said.
The academy is split into two one week sessions, each with twenty-five attendees. Stevens’ group enjoyed tours of the DuPont agricultural research center, training sessions and ten daily labs in animal science, agricultural mechanics, plant science and myriad other agricultural science topics during the weeklong academy. “I was uncomfortable at first. There were agriscience teachers from big agricultural states, and I felt really out of place,” she said. But one of the precepts of the study was “that it’s not about the right answer. The greatest discoveries have come through trial and error, otherwise known as inquiry. You can have all the content knowledge in the world, but if you can’t think and problem solve, it does you no good at all.”
Meeting with scientists and company executives, Stevens and her fellow Ag Ambassadors were afforded the opportunity to network with leading researchers and take a long, hard look at teaching and management strategies. Stevens described some of the labs that were designed to “teach us to think, to problem solve, to collaborate.” Given vague instructions and limited materials, the “ambassadors” were paired with fellow teachers and tasked to do things like “create a voltaic pile” with nickel, pennies and foil. “The first thing you have to do is try to understand. I didn’t even know what a ‘voltaic pile’ was, but we thought that voltaic…volt…must mean something like a charge…a battery. You learn to pull from prior knowledge, use deductive reasoning, make connections and problem solve.”
The intensive training sessions helped Stevens develop new thoughts on student engagement and teaching strategies. Designed to “train the trainer”, the new batch of Ag Ambassadors has been charged with helping fellow teachers employ new teaching strategies and build programming. Stevens and fellow teachers prepared lessons that were presented at two national conventions: the FFA National Convention in Louisville, KY and the National Association of Agriculture Educators’ National Convention in Nashville, TN. “I never saw myself teaching on a national stage,” said Stevens. “This academy allowed me to stretch beyond my comfort zone and develop skills to use in and out of the classroom. It was a life changing experience.”
Stevens, saying the single week helped her “grow as a teacher and a professional” will also present professional development seminars for fellow agriscience teachers at the New Hampshire FFA Winter Leadership Camp in Alton, NH. She will help fellow educators focus on literacy, communication, core math and “inquiry based labs. She also plans to bring her new training close to home, working with fellow educators at Newport High School and the Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center.
Stevens has been employed by the Newport School District for almost fifteen years, starting as Adult Education Program Coordinator and seeking teacher certification under a Department of Education Alternative Education program. Before this, she owned a landscape and gardening business, a florist and gift shop,and was a 4-H leader, Brownie leader and Cub Scout leader all while homeschooling her two children. “I’ve always been a teacher,” she said.
For more information about Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center programming, please contact the center at: (603) 863-7104 or e-mail Interim Director, John Doherty at firstname.lastname@example.org or Interim Assistant Director, Cindy Gallagher at email@example.com.