‘A Focus on Ag Literacy’
April 12, 2019
Written By Adam Buckallew
When Scott Stone began his career as an ag teacher at Centralia High School in rural Centralia, Mo., 21 years ago, three out of every four students came from a farming family. Now, only 15 percent of his students come from the farm. As the demographics of his students have shifted, Stone has adapted his lesson plans.
“I try to meet the students where they are at in terms of their agricultural understanding and build from there,” Stone says. “There’s more of a focus on ag literacy than deep dives on specific topics like cattle breeds.”
Stone grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania and originally intended to become a veterinarian before finding his calling in agricultural education. He was drawn to the opportunity to showcase agriculture as the backbone of the U.S. economy.
“With fewer farm kids, there’s definitely a big gap in understanding how our food is grown, which can lead to fear and skepticism,” Stone says. “I try to explain the process and give them an appreciation for the work of our farmers and ranchers and other career paths related to agriculture. I want all my students, regardless of their background, to be as informed as possible.”
Stone teaches a variety of ag education classes, including plant science, animal science, and a greenhouse course that provides hands-on experience raising vegetables and poinsettias.
“There are lots of students who don’t necessarily like traditional schoolwork, but the activities in our greenhouse and welding shop allow for a different type of learning that may be more appealing,” Stone says.
Stone is one of three ag instructors at Centralia, and all three teachers serve as co-advisors with the school’s FFA chapter. During the FFA contest season, which runs from January through April, it’s not uncommon for Stone to spend 80 hours a week teaching and preparing his students for competitions. While the days can be long, he appreciates the way FFA pushes his students to expand their horizons.
“FFA allows students to branch out into a wider community, and it pushes them into competitive situations where they can display their skills and knowledge while building their confidence,” Stone says.
Another area where Stone’s students gain real-world experience is through supervised agricultural experiences and work-based learning opportunities, such as raising livestock.
“All students are required to pick a project where they are keeping a record book, managing a budget, saving receipts and gaining a better grasp of finances,” Stones says. “The projects give the students an idea of what they might like to do for a career and what they might not enjoy as much, which is also helpful.”
As Stone’s curriculum has evolved through the years, it’s picked up more of a focus on science. He encourages his students to ask questions like ‘What makes meat tough?’ and ‘What impacts plant growth?’ and then helps them understand the underlying science.
“The world is looking for problem-solvers rather than just doers,” Stone says. “There are going to be big food challenges in the future, and it’s going to be important that we build trust in our agricultural production networks.”
In December, Stone was honored at the 48th Missouri Governor’s Conference on Agriculture as the recipient of the Missouri Agriculture Education Leader of the Year. The award recognizes teachers, advisors and leaders in primary, secondary and higher education systems for their outstanding instruction of youth in the Missouri agriculture system.