Farm Talk

September 26, 2012

Creating opportunities for youth in the agriculture industry

by Doug Toburen

Parsons, Kansas — Ed·u·ca·tion [ej-oo-kay-shuhn], the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally, of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.

That definition is the basis for everything K.C. Youngblood, agriculture education instructor at Columbus Unified High School in Columbus, Kansas has taught in his classroom and in the shop for the past 10 years.

According to Youngblood, it was the education he received that was the deciding factor in becoming an ag teacher in the first place.

“I didn’t make my decision to be in ag education until my junior year of college,” he explains. “That decision was made due to the fact my old ag teachers Mr. Dillard and Mr. Wolfe thought I should do it.”

From the time he made his decision until now Youngblood honestly says it was the right decision and he continues to thoroughly enjoy it.

For Youngblood, the objective of an ag teacher is easy.

“I want to create an opportunity for my students that they may not have had without being involved in agriculture education,” he says. “I want them to have an appreciation for agriculture and how it affects them every day of their lives. If I can do that then I feel like I have been successful.”

It is that kind of dedication to his students and to agriculture education that recently earned him the Kansas Association for Career and Technical Education 2012 Young Teacher of the Year award.

Youngblood was nominated for this award by the Kansas Association of Agricultural Educators, an affiliate association of K-ACTE.

As a state winner he will now be nominated for the national award from the Association for Career and Technical Education.

“Winning this award is a great feeling and I know none of it would be possible without the great students and school administration that we have here at Columbus,” he explains.

With 10 years of teaching experience it may seem Youngblood is far from a young teacher, however, according to him, agriculture is constantly changing and so are the youth coming through his program.

“Agriculture is so broad, so my goal is to offer the students a well-rounded program that involves not only the classroom work, but also the opportunity to work on projects in the shop and to attend contests,” he explains. “I try to keep it real life and practical, whether in the classroom or the shop or at contests.”

Youngblood is also a firm believer in the fact that it’s not always what you know, but who you know.

“These kids have the opportunity in four years time to make some wonderful contacts,” he says. “I try to remind them how invaluable those contacts could turn out to be later in life.”

Almost as rapidly as agriculture has changed over the past 10 years so have the students in Youngblood’s agriculture classes.

“Students today don’t have the background knowledge that kids had 10 years ago,” he explains. “I have had to change my teaching style a little to adapt it to this new group of kids who weren’t raised on the farm.”

According to him, some of the education today is so basic it may be teaching the difference between a dairy cow and a beef cow or even the difference between a bull and a steer.

“It doesn’t mean they can’t learn it and be successful in agriculture it just shows they aren’t around it like the kids 10-15 years ago,” Youngblood says. “It basically comes down to the fact that they don’t have the agricultural foundation kids used to have.”

Youngblood is the first to admit, however, that change in industry and changing students pushes him to be a better teacher.

“I continue to give these students the opportunity to learn all they can,” he says. “It’s a neat cycle, as they start getting interested they are feeding off of me which gets me more interested and I feed off of them too. The better they do, the better I do.”

Another change in agriculture education Youngblood has had to learn more about himself is the use of technology in the classroom.

“I’m not so old that we didn’t have technology and computers when I was in school,” he jokes. “But today all my juniors and seniors get iPads so I have had to learn how to use that technology in the classroom.”

Even though technology is an added change Youngblood welcomes it because it is a better way to communicate with the kids.

“We can pull things up on the Internet during class and we are all looking at the same thing at the same time,” Youngblood says. “I also send them all their homework assignments via e-mail and then they send them back when they are done.”

Overall, change, according to Youngblood, has been good. However, the core of his program has continued to stay the same.

“As I look back at what has been accomplished here I am very happy,” he explains. “We have had five nationally competitive teams, eight American Degree recipients and a number of great shop projects.”

Through the years Youngblood has dealt with the adversity of new trends and an ever changing enrollment but there will always be one part of the agricultural education puzzle that pleases him and will undoubtedly never change—the kids.

“Nothing makes me happier then seeing these kids come in as freshmen and watching them grow and mature and learn more about not only the agricultural industry, but life in general,” he explains. “There is nothing more humbling then having students text me from college to tell me how they did at a judging contest. Or, the ones that stayed involved in agriculture education and followed it through and made a career out of it.”

It is the love of teaching that brings success to Youngblood and to his students.

“I love teaching because of the combination of agriculture and education. I am passionate about what I teach, I have to be in order for myself or my students to be successful,” he concludes.£