N.C. A&T, N.C. Virtual Public Schools Partner for First Ag Courses

By Lydian Bernhardt / 05/27/2021 College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences

Andrea Gentry-Apple, DVM

 EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (May 252021) – North Carolina may be a leader in U.S. agriculture, but many middle and high school students miss out on agriculture and life skills-related classes such as food and nutrition and introductory animal science because their school districts don’t offer them in person, according to state agricultural education leader Joshua Bledsoe of the state FFA. 

That gap will close this fall, when two agriculture-related classes will become available to middle and high school students thanks to a collaboration between North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and N.C. Virtual Public Schools. 

“Many agriculture courses were cut in a curriculum shift in the late 1980s, and individual school districts don’t have the funds to supply them on their own,” said Brandon Simmons, Ph.D., of NC VPS. “But at the same time, we’re an ag state. If a student wants to take these classes, they should be available to them.” 

Heather Colleran, Ph.D.

For the first time in its history, the virtual school platform will offer Food and Nutrition 1 and Animal Science 1 using the expertise of N.C. A&T College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences faculty members Andrea Gentry-Apple, DVM, and Heather Colleran, Ph.D.

With Virtual Public Schools personnel, the professors and a leadership team from the CAES have worked for two years to develop online versions of the existing courses, providing middle and high school students access to such subject matter as proper food preparation and dietary guidelines, basic animal anatomy and safety around large animals. Registration for the classes is open through July 1. 

“This is our first foray into these subject areas.  N.C. VPS will be the first virtual school platform in the country to provide agricultural content through the state department of education,” said Eliz Colbert, executive director of the virtual platform. “The CAES has provided the expertise – and the desire – to reach students across the state. We’ve provided the platform and the structure.” 

Funding for the courses comes from a USDA capacity building grant obtained by CAES Associate Dean Antoine Alston, Ph.D., to provide the courses within the Career and Technical Education pathway of the N.C. Standard Course of Study.  

Alston approached N.C. VPS about offering the courses because of the program’s statewide reach and large enrollment. 

“Given the importance of food and agriculture to the state’s economy and to humankind’s survival, it was extremely concerning that there were no virtual agriculture courses within the state’s course of study. The sooner students begin to learn about these fields, the sooner they can participate in some of the state’s broadest employment areas, or simply expand their knowledge and create better lives,” Alston said.  

“At the same time, agriculture is our specialty in the CAES. It’s what we do. So it was a natural progression for us to reach out to the virtual school to make these courses available statewide.” 

Colleran, an assistant professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Studies, adapted the in-person food and nutrition I course to an online delivery for the North Carolina Virtual Public School. The course includes online instruction through a mix of assignments, PowerPoint presentations, cooking demonstrations and videos. One activity unique to the online platform will be for students to record their culinary skills for specific recipes, engaging students while providing teachers an opportunity to give feedback. 

“The pandemic really showed that there are many practical life skills students today just don’t have,” Colleran said. “The primary goal of this curriculum is to teach students the basics of how to cook and understand the fundamentals of healthy eating – things like how to measure, how to choose food wisely at the grocery store, how to store food, table etiquette, knife skills. It’s not a science class as much as a life skills class surrounding food and nutrition.”  

Andrea Gentry-Apple, DVM, an assistant professor in the Department of Animal Sciences, developed the animal sciences course. 

“Many students come to the course just knowing that they like animals and wanting to know more,” she said. “We start at a very basic level – the difference between a cow and a bull – and work through safety, anatomy, and also discuss the jobs available in the very wide animal science field.” 

Those jobs can include research, roles in conservation and at zoos, diagnostic roles in animal health, agricultural product sales, and more, Gentry-Apple said. 

“The class is almost to the level of what I’d offer in an introductory animal science course on campus,” she said. “I grew up in Ohio, and we were not exposed to animal science in high school. So to be a part of the only state program to put agriculture classes on an online platform to reach more students is really incredible.” 

N.C. VPS sees a bright future for the online courses. Alston and his team envision adding not only higher-level nutrition and animal science courses in the future, but horticulture and agricultural education as well, incorporating the talents of fellow CAES faculty members Guochen Yang, Ph.D., of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Design, and Chastity Warren English, Ph.D., of the Department of Agribusiness, Applied Economics and Agriscience Education. 

“There’s a great deal of interest in these courses,” said Rachel McBroom, the virtual platform’s chief academic officer, who oversees the development of all 700 courses. “We not only see opportunities for students across the state with these two, but there’s even more opportunity to build these classes out, and in the future, add the second and third courses in each.” 

“There are 255 unique careers in the field of agriculture, one of which is farming,” says Bledsoe, the agricultural education leader with N.C. FFA. “We need to help prepare young people with the skills they need to take advantage of those careers and be literate about agriculture’s importance. This team is doing an outstanding job.” 


Media Contact Information: jmhowse@ncat.edu

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