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Judy Aschwanden

2010 Recipient of Ag in the Classroom's Literacy for Life "Vocational Agriculture" Award
Santa Rosa High School, Sonoma County



This interview was originally published in the May 2010 issue of CFAITC's e-newsletter, "Cream of the Crop."

How long have you been teaching or working with students?
I have been teaching for a total of six years. The first two were in Fresno at Fresno-Central West High School and I am in my fourth year of teaching at Santa Rosa High School. My teaching assignments have included veterinary science, animal anatomy and physiology, viticulture, agriculture biology, and earth science in agriculture.

Why did you choose to become an educator?
There is a long history of teachers in our family. I knew that I wanted to stay involved in all aspects of the agriculture industry and leadership opportunities of the FFA, and being immersed in it every day as an agriculture instructor was the perfect way to accomplish that goal. Growing up, I was an active member of both 4-H and FFA and have experienced most of what it has to offer. I am a true believer and advocate for agriculture and agriculture education.

How do you integrate agriculture into the curriculum or activities you teach?
With the introduction of agriculture classes into a student's coursework, they have the opportunity to experience education through premier leadership, personal growth and career success. With the agriculture education structure of incorporating classroom instruction, FFA and Supervised Agriculture Experience Projects (SAEP), students have the chance to take what they learn in the classroom and apply it to their leadership activities and hands-on projects. The skills that are gained through serving as an FFA member, participating in SAEPs and classroom labs, extend from responsibility skills to communication skills, to career-related skills and leadership development.

With the skills and knowledge that students gain, they continue to apply that information in their SAEPs. With jobs, ownership enterprise and placement experience, students become a part of the agriculture industry. They gain personal growth and career success. With their accomplishments they are recognized with proficiency awards and earn FFA degrees at the Chapter, State and National levels. They have the opportunity to travel across the state to visit colleges that have agriculture programs, and across the nation to conferences, to learn about all of the careers and majors related to the agriculture field.

Students enter the agriculture department with little understanding about the agriculture industry and leave with an appreciation for all of the sectors from production to marketing to research to science. Our goals are accomplished when they have the ability to explain to others about agriculture's vast opportunities and extreme importance. We hope that students will then spread the word.

Describe any innovative agriculture-based projects you have been involved in developing.
As agriculture instructors at the high school level, we are fortunate to have The National FFA Organization as a core component to curriculum. With this leadership organization, students have the opportunity to organize and implement numerous community outreach activities.

With the nature of our program and its extensive facilities, the Agriculture Department hosts numerous field trips on campus and at the school farm.

Community Days at the Farm
The students organize, plan and plant a pumpkin patch that is open to the public on weekends. The community members on the Ag Boosters host a BBQ. Local elementary schools take field trips out to the school farm to learn about how the pumpkins and grapes are grown and the processes of planting to picking.
Girl Scout Day at the Farm
Local Girl Scout troops visit the school farm to earn a badge. Students coordinate four booths for girls to visit: a booth on pumpkins; winegrape growing and viticulture; FFA and leadership; and corn production.
Field Trips on Campus for 2nd-6th Graders and Visiting Administrators
With the facilities on campus including a veterinary technology lab, greenhouse, and barn with turkeys and winter hogs, the request for field trips arises. Students in the Animal Anatomy and Viticulture classes coordinate rotations for guests to visit.
Volunteering Service
Students volunteer their time and service to numerous agriculture business and organizations across the county.

Give an example of how you use agriculture to teach in your classroom or in your program.
Career Technical Education and Agriculture Education prides itself on the ability to provide students with hands-on learning. We not only provide content information but have students practice skills and discover information through labs and activities.

In the two science classes, labs are done at least once a week to introduce new materials, reinforce learned materials, or assess student understanding. They complete numerous group activities and complete a research paper on a topic of their choice. With the campus greenhouse and barn, students can practice skills hands-on through guided practice. Whether it is discussing bacteria and viruses in animal health, genetics and looking at pig litters, plant parts and photosynthesis, students can see the relationship to what they are learning to how it is used.

In the animal sciences courses, students see firsthand--from visits from veterinarians to processing turkeys--the skills and opportunities in the animal science field. With the recent completion of a veterinary technology lab, fully equipped with fecal stations, grooming tables, surgical tables, and equipment, students will learn about the tools, techniques and skills involved in the veterinary medicine field.

In all of the classes, field trips to local agriculture businesses ranging from production to processing are taken. Students have traveled to nurseries, dairies, creameries, vineyards and wineries. They learn about the industry and the opportunities in numerous fields.

Tell us about one person who has most influenced your own education and educational career.
I have been extremely fortunate to have a supportive family that has instilled the important core values of hard work, dedication and commitment. They have always provided encouragement in all of my endeavors. I credit my family, high school agriculture teachers, college teacher educator, colleagues and students for my passion for agriculture and education.

Tell us about a golden teaching moment.
Whether in my classroom, on a trip or outside at the farm, golden teaching moments come along often. What makes me the most proud is when current and past students continue on the journey of passing the information about agriculture on to others--when they take what they have learned in agriculture education classes and the leadership experiences gained from being members of the FFA and become advocates for agriculture and influences in the community to educate others.

What is your favorite AITC program/resource/event and why?
The mission and purpose of the AITC program is a blessing to the agriculture industry. The resources that AITC provides to educators and the information that they provide to students and community members plays a huge role in the success of this industry. I use AITC resources in my classroom and my students use them when preparing presentations for other community members.

Why is it important for our students to be agriculturally literate and aware in today's society?
With the growth of communities and schools, there is a decrease in the number of students that learn about agriculture from their families, or classroom experiences prior to entering high school. There is a disconnect with individuals between what is necessary to live and knowing where those resources come from. Agriculture is a number one industry that is necessary for survival. Individuals need to understand its relationship to our environment, economy and home. It is up to us to introduce them to the field of agriculture and the importance and impact on them as individuals and as a society. As an educator, there is an understanding that if we want the agriculture industry to remain solid and strong, we must ensure that students are educated in the area of agriculture and that they become advocates for the industry. Our goal is not to create farmers only, but community members who can make educated decisions about agriculture and understand this vital industry. Through the instruction of the science and CTE standards, I am able to ensure that my students gain an understanding of the economic, biologic and sociologic importance of the agriculture industry. I am able to show students how to apply the information they gather to their daily lives.


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