A gaggle of freshmen clattered into Bethany Prenger’s agriculture science class on a misty Monday afternoon in Eugene. After a quick rundown of the schedule for the next day’s field trip, the kids got started on the day’s assignment: checking on the eggs they were incubating and expecting to hatch in three days. It was a lively example of student engagement as the kids crowded around the egg turner and incubator.
Bethany spent the first few minutes candling the eggs to show development. The students then moved the eggs from the turner to the incubator to prepare for hatching. After that, they cracked store-bought, unfertilized eggs onto small plates to study the function of each of the parts. The lesson was truly hands-on as the students broke the yolks with their fingers. Handwashing followed.
“There’s a lot of movement in my class,” Bethany said. “These kids have been sitting in classes all morning, and they’re ready to get up and move around. They’re using real-world applications, and they often don’t even realize they’re learning.”
Bethany is in her third year of teaching in the Cole County R-V district and her fourth year overall. She spent a year teaching in Lebanon after she graduated from Missouri State University, but when an opening became available in Eugene, she came home.
“I grew up on a beef farm in Eugene, and my husband’s family still farms here,” Bethany said. “I love being in a small district. The students are neighbors, and we see them at church and around the community. We have built strong ties here.”
Cole County R-V encourages its students to consider careers in education. The practice is an example of DESE’s Grow Your Own campaign to build local teacher pipelines. Bethany said the district has a program called “All About That Ag,” which allows high school students to interact with younger kids, teaching them about agriculture and setting an example for them. Other opportunities are provided through “Teach Ag Day” in September. Workshops and activities are offered during the summer to encourage students to think about teaching as a career.
Cole County R-V is a rural district with fewer than 600 students enrolled in PK-12. Some might assume that all the kids come from farming families or have another connection to agriculture, but that’s not the case. Bethany says one of her biggest challenges is convincing students to take her class when they don’t have a farming background or aren’t planning on a career in agriculture. They soon learn that ag classes reinforce skills learned in other courses.
“Students are surprised at the level of science in my class,” Bethany said. “Ag is science-based, and my students also have to read, write and do math. It’s a rigorous curriculum that helps ensure learning for the future.”
Even though convincing students to take her class is Bethany’s biggest challenge, there’s also a big reward: the excitement that students show when they see where their food comes from. Their eyes light up when they make the connection between cows and the milk they drink or the burgers they enjoy.
“They learn that chocolate milk doesn’t come from chocolate cows,” Bethany joked.
Bethany not only teaches ag science, she’s the FFA advisor for Eugene. FFA is another way to prepare students for college and career. A quick look at the district’s FFA Facebook page shows a variety of activities that are intended to build confidence and skills.
“FFA focuses on personal growth, career success and premier leadership,” Bethany said. “The kids learn to build a resume and perform well in interviews. We have speaking competitions, and we teach marketing and sales to help the students get a foundation in business.”
Bethany stressed that agriculture is a large employment sector in Missouri and the U.S. It encompasses ecology, veterinary science, engineering, food science, agronomy – even journalism. It’s important, then, to prepare ag students for life.
“We need to work together for well-rounded students who are good for the world,” Bethany said. “That can start with teaching them about food sources.”
The freshmen in Bethany’s class that Monday afternoon didn’t know what kind of chick would hatch from each egg – although one student believed her green egg would hatch a black chicken. Neither does anyone know whether those freshmen will become farmers or veterinarians or something far flung from agriculture. One thing is fairly certain: Bethany’s students and others all over Missouri are getting the opportunity to build the knowledge, skills and confidence they need for whatever the future holds.