The story of an atypically atypical first year as a high school agricultural educator
One of the things Lucy Hand singles out from her SUNY Cobleskill education is flexibility of delivery.
“You aren’t in the classroom all the time,” says Hand. “My courses took me to the barns and the labs, and that doesn’t even cover off campus events like Empire Farm Days.”
Flexibility of delivery was something that Hand knew she would be incorporating into her own teaching, when she got a job as an ag mechanics teacher at Wamogo (CT) Regional High School.
The extent to which she’d wind up incorporating it was out of her control.
Such is being a first year teacher in a pandemic.
“Ag teachers tend to say we’re up for anything; this has been a real change,” says Hand. “It isn’t easy to go from welding and equipment maintenance to teaching through a screen.”
Hand brings an animal science background to the job, in which she teaches about 70 high school students, each with diverse interests and skills. She is part of a seven-member Agricultural Science and Technology Department. Collectively the group specializes in disciplines including, among others, veterinary science, food science, and plant science.
Agricultural education is now a SUNY Cobleskill degree minor. For Hand, though, it wasn’t until her final semester that she took a dedicated ag ed course – for a long time she had aspirations of working as a large animal vet. Immediately she took to the ag ed field, developing an interest in educating students to be educators themselves. She never looked back, completing her master’s in Agriculture, Leadership, and Education at Virginia Tech in 2019.
Her educational path may seem conventional. But there are many ways to earn an education, and many avenues for students to travel at all levels of their learning. From the platform of her current position, that is the message Hand tries to instill in her students.
Lucy Hand, on the first day of her first year as an Ag Teacher at Wamogo Regional High School in Connecticut.
“What my job does on a broader scale is outline all the different options available to students. You don’t necessarily have to go right into college. We can focus options for different people. You can go directly into the workforce. You can move to a tech program. There are all kinds of possibilities.”
No matter the path, Hand says the goal is to help provide a future-looking perspective of agriculture, and all of its different areas. Hand went to an agricultural high school herself and was a member of FFA. She keeps in touch with many of her own teachers, which proved invaluable this year given the remote nature of instruction that will define Hand’s first in (outside) the classroom. She says she often found herself connecting with her former teachers and asking for guidelines to projects she herself completed as a student.
“Our community of educators really came together this year. It was a year that was new for all of us. There was a lot of sharing what worked, and what didn’t work.”
As agriculture evolves, so too will agricultural education. Factors like geography, social media, and industry demands are among those Hand says she thinks will lead to innovations in her field.
“Students see the pushes and the pulls that affect agriculture,” says Hand. “Education evolves to meet current and future trends. We teach maple syrup production; I wouldn’t be doing that in Virginia, obviously. There are all these influences that keep the education we provide relevant for students.”