TIFTON—The Georgia Professional Standards Commission has approved a plan that will allow Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College to become the first program in the nation to offer instruction to prepare graduates to teach agriculture classes at the pre-kindergarten through fifth grade level, adding to its agriculture teacher certification program for grades 6 through 12.
Dr. Andrew Thoron, Associate Professor and Department Head for Agricultural Education and Communication, said ABAC courses for the P-5 Agricultural Endorsement could begin in the summer of 2021.
“Our endorsement is two-fold,” Thoron said. “First, we’ll equip our current students with the ability to enter the classroom as a certified teacher in P-5 agriculture in addition to our 6-12 certification. Second, we already have over 500 agriculture teachers in grades six through 12 in Georgia who will have an opportunity to gain this endorsement through our course offerings.
“That is the reason we will begin to offer the classes in the summer and most likely, online, so that we can reach the entire state. Current P-5 teachers can take the classes but because they already have P-5 certification, they only need to pass the Agricultural Content Knowledge examination.”
Thoron said Georgia is the first state to offer agriculture classes at the P-5 level. Billy Hughes, Program Manager for Agricultural Education with the Georgia Department of Education, believes it will pay dividends.
“Agriculture is the largest industry in Georgia, and SB 330 (2018) allowed the expansion of Agricultural Education into elementary schools,” Hughes said. ‘Now, students in P-12 classes can be taught about agriculture’s impact on the economy, and they can receive accurate information about agricultural practices. These students will also begin developing leadership skills at a younger age.
“The elementary agriculture classes are growing because of community interest and because of agriculture’s strong ties to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education. We appreciate ABAC’s continuing support of Agriculture Education.”
Thoron echoes those sentiments.
“This has a positive impact for our ABAC Agricultural Education program, but it also has great implications for the State of Georgia and School Based Agricultural Education in this state,” Thoron said. “ABAC is providing solutions for our partners in public education in Georgia.”
Christa Steinkamp, the Curriculum and Technology Coordinator for Georgia Agricultural Education, said elementary agriculture classes are growing and changing.
“Georgia had 19 elementary schools that were part of the initial pilot program,” Steinkamp said. “That number grew to 26 schools by the start of school in 2019. For the 2020-2021 school year, there will be 27 schools. This number is expected to increase after the limitations due to COVID-19.”
ABAC faculty members recognized the growth and the need for the endorsement and initiated new courses to prepare teachers for elementary agriculture classes. Dr. Frank Flanders, Agriculture Teacher Preparation Coordinator at ABAC, helped to light the fuse.
“The new ABAC program should fit well with the Destination Ag program for elementary schools now offered through ABAC’s Georgia Museum of Agriculture (GMA),” Flanders said. “We expect that our program will be attractive to college students in other states who are interested in teaching agriculture at the elementary level.”
Ella Griner from Pierce County, an incoming freshman majoring in ABAC’s Agricultural Education bachelor’s degree program, said, “I am thrilled about beginning my educational journey at ABAC in the fall of 2020.
“Pursuing a degree in Agricultural Education has long been a dream of mine, and knowing now that I will be able to graduate from ABAC with the qualifications necessary to teach agriculture in grades K-12 is like a dream come true.”
Griner’s mother, Julie, who teaches in the gifted program, and is also teaching agriculture as part of the pilot program at Patterson Elementary School in Pierce County, said, “Not only will this new program provide excellent learning opportunities for ABAC’s Agricultural Education students, but it will also translate into endless agricultural learning opportunities for Georgia’s youngest students.
“Agricultural education lends itself to hands-on learning, inquiry-based learning, project-based learning, cooperative learning, and many more highly effective styles that make STEM education effective for all learners.”
For the past two years, ABAC has led all colleges and universities in the Southeast in the number of graduates with the Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Education. Thoron sees the P-5 Agricultural Endorsement as another arrow in the quiver of possibilities for ABAC students.
“We will work to gauge interest over the next few months, and then we will begin to finalize the curriculum,” Thoron said. “I think the best is yet to come.”
For more information, interested persons can contact Thoron at firstname.lastname@example.org.