Ashley began taking agricultural science classes in the 10th grade because she grew up on a farm, and farming was the way life she had always known:
I decided that I want my career to be in agriculture too because I can't really get away from it; it's just what I've always known. I decided to do food science and technology and go into food safety, so that I can help, because I know how that works on our farm. What we learn in class is like a head start for what I want to do in the future.Devon had a less direct path into agriculture. Both her parents are writers, so her first exposure to agricultural science was the horticulture class she took on a whim in the 9th grade because she enjoys trying new things:
I became interested in plant sciences, and I was amazed at how many teenagers don't keep a garden. You would think being around here people would know about agriculture, but so many people don't know where their food comes from. Everyone expected me to follow my parents with writing, but I want to become a horticulture teacher.Ashley and Devon are both extremely high achieving students and fairly confident they'll be accepted to the university of their choice. Both have chosen to take CTE courses along with their AP courses and will receive advanced diplomas this May. Fortunately, Carroll County High is a comprehensive high school, where CTE and academic programs are all housed in the same building. This makes it easy for high achieving students, like Ashley and Devon, to combine their academic and technical studies, a pattern that is now the norm, not the exception, in their school.
Randy Webb, one of the agriculture instructors at Carroll County, says "I think we're attracting more of the academic students than we were ten years ago. We're migrating towards a more science and technology based education, especially with STEM being a focal point for national education now; and agriculture is a perfect fit." In Carroll County, over 55 percent of the students who take CTE courses graduate with an advanced diploma. "Ten years ago, you would have probably been looking at about 20 percent."
According to Ashley and Devon, being in CTE doesn't take time away from their other academic subjects, but supplements them instead. "And it's not just the biology" that CTE helps them excel in, Ashely says.
Because in our school if you're in Agriculture, you're in FFA too, and if you try to participate, you get so much out of it. I've done public speaking, parliamentary procedure, different contests where you are graded on your verbal presentation as well as how grammatically correct you are and how good of a writer you are. So it's really directly related to our other courses.
New York Times, Future Farmers Look Ahead
Agriculture students at Carroll County benefit not only from their coursework, but from the practical, hands-on experience they get working on the school farm. The farm serves as fertile ground for students to grow their own crops, but also as a means to get more involved in the community. The school's land lab hosts groups like the Cattlemen's Association and the Virginia Agriculture Council. Students are able to sell what they grow on the farm at Food City, one of the largest food chains in southwest Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. "The community really appreciates that, " says Devon "They know these kids have grown this."
The school's visibility in the community has been an asset to the agriculture program, according to Randy Webb. "Especially with our land lab, or even getting our students to take trips to national events. We have a lot of companies, Southern State, farm supply companies, farmers, farm bureaus, Carroll County Vet Clinic; all these businesses come and ask 'how can we help you.' Whether they're doing that with materials or financially, we have got such a positive inflow from the community, that I think it's also helping our program grow."
Although CTE's Agriscience program is nontraditional for females, that's not an issue for Ashley or Devon. Ashley says,
On our farm we have four kids, and three of us are girls, so there's not anything on the farm that we have not been exposed to or done. The whole 'farming is just for men thing' ... I don't think so, because I do it everyday.
My parents are really for it, but a lot of older people, like my grandparents, didn't want me to go into it because they told me it's a man's job. But my grandpa is more accepting now. I told him I'm not out there with heavy equipment; I'm thinking about teaching and working in the lab, not really out in the fields. And he kind of realized times have changed and women can do more things.Both Ashley and Devon are comfortable with their choice of a nontraditional CTE program, and once they begin their university studies, they will discover they have lots of peers. In 2010, over 60 percent Virginia's higher degrees in agricultural sciences were earned by women.