We asked Dane White, a high school agricultural teacher at Galt High School in Sacramento County, about his experiences with agriculture education.
How and when did you first learn of Ag in the Classroom?
I first learned about CFAITC when I was involved in FFA many years ago—I admired its mission and appreciated the Foundation’s attempts to teach youth about our most essential industry. Since then, I’ve worked with CFAITC on projects such as the WeGarden at the State Capitol and the Farm-to-Fork Festival and have enjoyed every experience we have been given to work with such great people to accomplish such a noble mission.
How long have you been teaching students and why did you choose to become an educator?
My agriculture teacher, Sandy Lovfald of Eureka High School, is the reason I teach agriculture. She invested a ton of her energy in me and never accepted mediocrity as my personal standard—she would demand excellence from me. I knew I wanted to be an agriculture teacher the moment I was able to reflect back and realize the significant impact she made on my life—I can’t imagine where I would be without her. I’ve now taught for seven years at Galt High School and strive to make that same kind of difference in each of my students.
What is your favorite AITC program/resource/event and why?
There are many things about CFAITC I love—with most involving outreach. My particular favorite was last fall’s Farm-to-Fork Festival in Sacramento. I brought my students to work at an educational booth and I loved watching them engage young kids and their families in discussions about food—something they can certainly relate to! I value the work CFAITC does to bring agriculture to the forefront in events such as the Farm-to-Fork Festival.
What is the most profound impact that agriculture education/awareness has had on you?
Aside from providing me with a purposeful vocation, I love that agriculture education constantly evolves and gives us the chance to expand our reach. I see the impact it makes on students who might otherwise not be excellent students or find a place in their high school. Every year at our graduation when I see agriculture students proudly wearing their gold merit sashes, I am filled with pride at knowing they found a home and a place that would challenge them to grow and strive. To play a role in the development of the next generation’s leadership skills and agricultural acumen is a great blessing.
Has agriculture continued to impact the way you educate students?
It’s the core of what I do; though the complexities of our educational system can often obscure the purpose of our agriculture classrooms, I cannot imagine teaching anything else. When students leave my class with tactile experiences and skills that give them the upper edge in a competitive job market, I know my job is worthy. I also really appreciate that agriculture’s social credibility is growing—it has opened a lot of doors for non-traditional students to find a passion in our subject area that can lead to success later in life.
Tell us about a golden teaching moment.
Each year presents me with a number of golden teaching moments. I’m fortunate to work in a community and at a high school that will support visionary programs that prioritize kids and as a result, my cup is filled constantly with successes. Whether it is a student showing up to an FFA meeting for the first time, having our “AG Squad” support our school’s sports teams or even just a proud student who earned their first “A” on a test, I regularly find examples that are pretty golden. This year when my Agriculture Issues Forum team won the State FFA Championship that qualified them for the national competition, I nearly exploded with happiness and pride. The students on that team have been humble workers and many of them would never have dreamt they could be state champions. That’s one of the biggest “wins” in my career thus far.
Describe any agriculture-based projects you have been involved in lately.
We recently completed the Sacramento County Fair, which had nearly 90 Galt High School students involved with projects from rabbits to cattle to mechanics. Additionally, we have a poultry unit on campus and a greenhouse that was recently emptied thanks to a successful plant sale, and we’re partnering with a Lodi olive oil producer to start an olive orchard on our campus. Our mission is that students not only understand the technical aspects of agriculture, but can translate a set of competencies into success in college and careers. As such, we are implementing innovative agricultural projects that develop useful and relevant skills.
Do you have any advice for other teachers on implementing agriculture into the classroom?
There are a huge number of easily implemented resources available and in many cases it’s easy to begin with the FFA members of a nearby high school! Most agriculture teachers are looking for chances to engage youth with their agriculture students—an elementary teacher reaching out would be a win/win!
Why do you believe it is important for our students to be agriculturally literate and aware in today’s society?
As cliché as it may sound, agriculture is the only industry that is vital to sustain our population. Even if someone doesn’t have a career that directly involves agriculture, it’s critical that people can play a proactive role in problem-solving and innovation for agriculture. Too often those who are agriculturally illiterate will make the work of producers unnecessarily difficulty—but those who have an understanding of and appreciation for agriculture can work to create mutually beneficial solutions.