ACTE Techniques March 2012 : Page 44

Fea ture By Julie Fritsch Advocating for Ag Education “tHE AGRICULtURE pROGRAM At kUNA [HIGH SCHOOL] NOt ONLy RELIES ON MEMBERS OF tHE ADVISORy COMMIttEE tO BE ItS pUBLIC FACE, BuT MAkES SuRE STuDENTS ARE VISIBlE ON A REGulAR BASIS.” I F yOU WANt tO REALLy FIGURE OUt HOW tO ADVOCAtE for your students, PHOTO BY STOCkxCHNG.COM your program and your profession, just spend some time talking to Idaho agriculture educator Shawn Dygert. His approach to advocacy has helped his local program grow, influenced how advocacy works at the state level, and has even made inroads nationally. And somehow, he makes it all sound fun. To Dygert, who has been teaching agriculture at Kuna High School for 20 years, visiting legislators or working on bills is important, but doesn’t even begin to encompass the full meaning of advocacy. Dygert’s brand of advocacy starts at the heart of his program and runs straight through to Washington, D.C. It’s an approach that’s been adopted by his entire state, with great results. Important Advocacy Tools Dygert and his two co-teachers at the school, located in Kuna, have two impor -tant tools for advocacy at the local level: a strong advisory committee, and excellent students whom they regularly showcase to the community. All agriculture programs in Idaho are required to maintain advi -sory committees to receive state fund -ing, but Kuna’s is particularly effective. Everything that the agriculture program does funnels through the committee— which is made up of 12 people who have influence, connections or interests that make them an asset. “It’s important to have the right people on board,” said Dygert. “Because of that we’ve been able to get on board early with school expansions, expansion of our program, looking at where we need to be. We can start talking with people about a project now, maybe a year or two before we really want it to happen. Then every time a hurdle gets thrown up, we can deal with it without a panic.” One of those advisory committee members is Allison Touchstone, who taught agriculture at Kuna for nine years, and is now an associate professor at the University of Idaho. Touchstone still lives in the community, and was invited to remain on the advisory committee when she left Kuna, so her involvement has been continuous. “We like to look at our role as a partnership,” said Touchstone of the committee’s work with school and local decision makers. “That’s why we try to be proactive. We try to get out there and let everyone know what the agriculture program needs instead of trying to come in after the fact.” The agriculture program at Kuna not only relies on members of the advisory committee to be its public face, but makes sure students are visible on a regular basis. One of the major functions the advisory committee helps plan and execute is the annual scholarship auction, during which students offer services to community members in exchange for a donation to the agriculture program. “We’ve raised $20,000 in two hours with that,” said Touchstone. Even more importantly, the auction has become a great way for community members to interact with students, learn about the program, and get behind initiatives the agriculture program has coming up. “What our teachers do is require kids 44 Techniques MARCH 2012

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