Students Becoming the Teachers

Growing up as a member of the Granville Central School District, it’s hard not to hear about the high school’s agriculture program. The program has grown in stature under the leadership of teachers like Deb Cahan and Catlin Goodwin, but students enrolled in the program have also helped raise the reputation of the program within the state. That transformation hasn’t happened overnight, and requires younger students at Mary J. Tanner Elementary and Granville Elementary to take an interest in what could await them at higher grade levels.

To help generate that interest, the ag students have become the ag teachers.

Twelve students in Mrs. Cahan’s agriculture class brought their knowledge and their animals to an assembly at Mary J. Tanner to help introduce younger students to the type of work someone could expect to do at the high school. The ag students were responsible for presenting their animals and grooming them to make sure they could safely appear in a class setting. Students also prepared a presentation to explain the necessary work to care for their animals in the classroom.

“It’s an important element to our class work,” said Mrs. Cahan. “In order for our students to be ready for presentations tied to FFA, they have to know everything about the animals they care for and how to best explain what it is they do for them to any audience. On top of that, we want students at other buildings in our district to get excited about possibly signing up for the program when they’re older.”

For their presentations, students created information sheets that detail what type of animal they are presenting, how to care for that animal, and why that animal is being studied in the classroom. FFA Student Advisor and 11th Grader Savannah Illsley credits opportunities to present in front of an audience like the students at Mary J. Tanner for helping the program grow.

“It can be eye-opening for younger students to get to see our snakes or rabbits up close for the first time,” said Savannah. “They get so excited to meet our animals, but we also get to teach them about how to properly care for the animals so they can keep growing. It helps open a door, and hopefully makes them curious enough where they want to join the program when they get older.”

Savannah first joined the program when she was in the seventh grade and credits her upbringing on her family’s farm for driving her interest in agriculture. She says this assembly will help remove the barrier for entry into caring for animals some students may have at a young age.

“I’ve always had a love and passion for animals, but not every student gets to grow up on a farm. I want to help introduce and educate students about the animals we work with and get them asking questions at younger ages about how to become involved,” said Savannah.

Empowering the students in the ag program to take the lead for assemblies is part of Mrs. Cahan’s mission to help students become more in control of their own education. The agriculture class follows the three-ring model of instruction: leadership, classroom instruction, and supervised agricultural experience (SAE). Students have the opportunity to pitch Mrs. Cahan how the assembly should be structured and which animals should be presented to the students.

“I try to find ways to push my students to areas outside their comfort zone, all while providing the necessary support to make sure they understand why these lessons are so important,” said Mrs. Cahan. “My goal is for my students to be able to take the work they do in my classroom and apply it to any other class they might be in. They won’t be talking about animals in other classes, but they’ll be making presentations and looking at assignments from new vantage points because of the work we do in the agriculture program.”

Eleventh Grader Breanne Weeden credits the preparation for this assembly and other assignments in the agriculture program for overcoming her fear of public speaking.

“I hated speaking in front of people. I never felt comfortable giving presentations, no matter how big or small the class was,” said Breanne. “Getting to present on a topic that I have a passion for and a deep connection to helped me get more comfortable presenting in front of people. It makes it easier for me in other classes to stand before the class.”

Animals that made the trip with the agriculture students were snakes, rabbits, chicks, mice, and even cockroaches. The agriculture students have also held similar assemblies for residents staying at the Granville Center, and they plan on giving a presentation to students at Granville Elementary before the end of the school year.

“The more I can get our students out into the community, the more comfortable the community will be about the work we do with our animals,” said Mrs. Cahan.

“I want to help remove any stigma a younger student might associate with the agriculture program,” said Savannah. “It’s a lot of work to be part of this class, but it’s even more fun and rewarding. I want the next generation of Granville students to be as excited about this program as I am.”