Back to School in the Ag Classroom
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We recently interviewed Krista Pontius, agriculture education teacher and FFA advisor at Greenwood High School in Millerstown, PA. Krista recently received the prestigious honor of being named the “Top Teacher” by the Live with Kelly and Ryan show. She discussed agriculture education and her perspectives to celebrate “Back to School Month” this August.
First tell us a little bit about yourself and the ag department at Greenwood High School.
I was born and raised on a farm. We had pigs and beef, and then I married a dairy farmer, so that of course is my life. My husband and I, Jason, operate a small dairy farm in Millerstown. I've always known that I wanted to be an ag teacher, honestly. Ever since my first day in ninth grade and I saw my ag teacher, Dr. MeeCee Baker doing her thing, I knew that that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I went to Penn State and then I went a couple of other places and I found my home back here at my home at Greenwood.
We have two teachers here at Greenwood, myself and Michael Clark, and we teach a wide variety of classes - plant science, environmental science, animal sciences, leadership, business, small engines. We cover the gamut of everything agriculture here at Greenwood.
What’s the most rewarding part about your job?
That's pretty easy, honestly. It's my students. I just love being around them. I love getting to see those light bulbs pop up when they're connecting things from other classes. And I love to give my students experiences that they may not have experienced at other times, other places.
I was just talking the other day to our new principal, and I said we took kids to the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis, and I will never forget this. It was 1:00 AM. We had a pretty rough trip, getting home, got stuck in some traffic. And this kid stopped and he came and down in the seat beside me, and he said, "Thank you so much. I didn't know there was a great big world out there." And I thought, oh my goodness, we only went two states away and look how his eyes are open for the rest of his life.
So rewards in this job are pretty easy to come by. Every day, I get to experience some of the greatest kids in the world, and I just hope that they can take a little part of what happened here in their ag ed class with them throughout the rest of their lives.
What’s your perspective on how will agriculture education look in the future?
It has changed quite a bit. I'm getting ready to start my 25th year. It's hard to believe that. What has changed along the way is not necessarily the students, but it's the students' backgrounds. Our job is probably becoming more important than it ever was before, because instead of teaching kids how to be farmers, we need to teach people how to be responsible consumers.
I always try very hard to make sure that students who leave my classroom have a true understanding of and appreciation for agriculture, and when they go out into the world and they become those doctors and lawyers and welders and truck drivers and whatever they may become, I want them to go to the grocery store and make sound decisions. I want them to be cheerleaders for farmers because we all know this job isn't easy. And by that job, I mean being a farmer is not easy, and we all need as many people on our side as we can.
How can the agriculture community be more engaged in helping support agriculture education in schools?
What a great question. There are tons of ways to be supportive, whether that is sending a message to a local ag teacher and saying, "Hey, I'm here. If you ever need a judge, or if you ever need a tractor, or if you ever need whatever the case may be." It's so nice just to know people in your community, and especially teachers who are young and don't necessarily have ties to the community, they need people on their side and they need a support net. So whatever way that you can offer support, just let your ag teacher know.
If you don't feel comfortable doing that, the Pennsylvania FFA Alumni Association runs a jacket campaign that will allow you to sponsor a jacket for a first-year member. We have so many students who need jackets and need those opportunities. We all know that the blue and gold corduroy jacket is the ticket to the organization. So maybe you just want to send $50 and sponsor a jacket.
Here’s a two-part question as we wrap up. First, what are you most looking forward to for this upcoming school year. And second, what excites you about the future of agriculture?
Well, I will be honest. I cannot wait for school to start. It's going to start here in a couple of days, and I'm so excited to see my students. I know that they are going to come back, rip roaring and ready to go.
We missed out on a whole lot last year, and I know that they are ready to hit the ground running, and that excites me. Seeing my students have opportunities and get excited about what they're doing, that's just go-go juice for a teacher, and it just makes you want to keep coming back day after day.
I am excited about the future of agriculture. I know agriculture has gone through a lot of tough times lately, and believe me, I live it, so I know it too. But if you would have the opportunity to sit in my classroom, and classrooms all across this nation, and see the students and see their bright eyes and their great ideas, I think that everybody would rest assured that the future of agriculture is in very good hands. We have wonderful students who are ready to truly make a difference in this world. I'm just excited to be a little part of the very beginning of that.
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