RCC hosts Agriculture Summit, updating community on Pathway

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Southwestern Randolph High School teacher and Randolph Community College Agricultural Mechanics Instructor Andrew Atwell discusses Agriculture Day on Tuesday, Dec. 3, during an Agriculture Summit in the JB & Claire Davis Corporate Training Center on the Asheboro Campus.

ASHEBORO (Dec. 5, 2019)

Randolph Community College (RCC), the Randolph County School System (RCSS), and Asheboro City Schools (ACS) faculty and staff; local agriculture industry representatives, and community partners gathered Tuesday, Dec. 3, in RCC’s JB & Claire Davis Corporate Training Center for an Agriculture Summit to share what has developed out of and share new ideas for the Pathways to Prosperity Agriculture Pathway that was released in April 2018.

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Southwestern Randolph High School student Zachariah Mabe gives a firsthand account of his Ag Mechanics and Welding courses.

After RCC President Dr. Robert Shackleford Jr. welcomed the summit attendees, he discussed the strides the College has made toward an Agribusiness Technology degree, including new Department Head Derrick Cockman. Shackleford also mentioned RCC’s discussions with the North Carolina Zoo to develop a Horticulture program.

RCC Pathways Activities Coordinator Stacey Miller introduced the goals from the final plan for the Agriculture Pathway:
• Help students see that a career in agriculture is more attractive than before.
• Increase K-12 awareness and exposure to agriculture in Randolph County and beyond for students, staff, and parents.
• Support agriculture business education opportunities.
• Develop an Agribusiness Technology curriculum and career pathways at RCC.

Miller then introduced several joint initiatives — Agriculture Day, Summer Teacher Internships, APP (Agriculture Production Pathway) Camp, and Job Shadow Day — in which the schools and community had taken part to help increase awareness and interest in agriculture in Randolph County.

Southwestern Randolph High School teacher Andrew Atwell, who is over the Agricultural Mechanics program at the school and also is an Ag Mechanics instructor at RCC, stressed the importance of not only Ag Day, but the schools’ involvement in the National FFA Organization in bringing a “real-world context” to his students.

“We toured Allens Dairy, and you would not believe how many kids said, ‘I didn’t know where my milk came from,’ ” he said, noting SWRHS received a $15,000 grant from Timken for Ag Mechanic projects in May 2018. “We need training.”

Asheboro High School teacher Elizabeth Pack, who heads the Agriculture program at the school, and student Thayla Letterlough both attended the inaugural APP Camp over the summer.

“The theme was exposure — a lot of us are really far-removed from the farm,” said Pack, who said the campers did everything from visit the Zoo School to learning about forestry to touring Founder’s Hemp to visiting a working farm. “The science and biology that go into farming are amazing.”

“It was more engaging,” said Letterlough, who attended all three Pathways Camps. “We learned that, no matter what you do, everything leads to agriculture.”

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Asheboro High School student Thalya Letterlough describes her experience in the APP (Agricultural Production Pathway) Camp this summer.
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Founder’s Hemp COO and Innovative AgriProducts CEO Jamie Crumley talks about new opportunities in the hemp industry.

AHS student Jaquelinne Ruiz-Torales participated in Job Shadow Day, following a health inspector for the local schools. The inspection took place at lunchtime, and Ruiz-Torales described her experiences shadowing a health inspector during lunchtime at Trinity High School.

Representatives from RCC, ACS, and RCSS then discussed the school systems’ initiatives.

Dean of Curriculum Programs Melinda Eudy and Director of Workforce Development Wanda Beck presented RCC’s Agriculture Pathway progress. Eudy talked about the Agribusiness Technology program, which started this fall; the PackTrac option with North Carolina State University; the Zoological Horticulture certificate, which will be offered in Fall 2020; and the Career & College Promise entry points with Agribusiness Technology and Agri-Accounting certificates. Beck showed RCC’s continuing education initiatives — Agritourism and Ag Mechanics classes and the Veterinary Assisting classes that prepare students to sit for the CVA 1 exam through the Texas Veterinary Medical Association.

ACS Career & Technical Education (CTE) Administrator Sarah Beth Robbins and RCSS CTE Director Nancy Cross presented their respective school systems’ Pathways initiatives, including Comets2Careers (ACS) and the K-12 Systematic Career Development (RCSS). Both brought data showing the top 10 enrolled program areas for their school systems with Health Sciences first for ACS (Agriculture is sixth), and Agriculture Education first for RCSS, including 6,254 students taking one or more CTE courses and 6,563 earning postsecondary credentials in CTE program areas (sixth in the state).

Robbins said the center for ACS’ Ag programs are at the Zoo School, which is hoping to add Animal Science.

“We’re hoping to grow our Ag program,” she said. “Our collaboration with the other school systems and local businesses is exemplary for the state.”

Cross said there is at least one Ag teacher in every county high school, and discussed the school systems’ recent partnership with the University of Mount Olive where students can earn an Associate of Science degree in Agriculture.

To show attendees a student’s perspective, SWRHS student Zachariah Mabe described his experiences taking Ag Mechanics classes, being a member of the school’s FFA team and placing first at regionals the past three years in the Ag Mechanics division, and taking welding courses at RCC.

“You’re not just sitting in a classroom, learning from a book and watching a video,” said Mabe, who is one of five CTE U.S. Presidential Scholars from North Carolina. “I can’t stand that; I get stir-crazy.”

Mabe said after he graduates from RCC, he is hoping to attend N.C. State and major in Mechanical Engineering. After that, he is hoping to open his own welding and fabrication business.

Founder’s Hemp COO and Innovative AgriProducts CEO Jamie Crumley then discussed the opportunities in the hemp industry, noting that the APP Camp was the first time students visited their facility.

“We’re used to having business meetings and leaders coming into our facility, but having the students come opened our eyes,” she said, noting that the business is looking to change the hemp stigma. “They asked the questions adults were afraid to ask. They’re the next generation. We want to spearhead education and get involved in agriculture programs.”

The last presenter was Kenneth Sherin, the new Randolph County Cooperative Extension Director, who discussed how important agriculture is to the county and noted that the office is starting to get elementary school students more aware of and involved in 4-H.

After the presentations, Miller led a question-and-answer brainstorming session, asking these questions to the attendees:
• How can we recruit more students into Agriculture Pathways?
• Are there ways to incorporate more work-based learning opportunities into the Pathways?
• Are there any emerging agricultural occupations and/or fields we should be preparing our students for?
• Are there industry-recognized credentials that we should be preparing our students to obtain?

RCC Vice President for Instructional Services Suzanne Rohrbaugh closed the Summit, thanking everyone for attending.

“I once heard, ‘Farmers know how to farm, but they don’t know how to run a business,’ ” she said. “This ultimately led to our decision in developing the Agribusiness Technology Program. The return on investment for Randolph County will be phenomenal, developing a strong workforce in the agriculture industry. At the end of the day, it’s what we can do for Randolph County and training our own.”

The Pathways to Prosperity project is based on a report, “Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century,” released in 2011 by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, in which school systems are “called to align Career & Technical Education (CTE) courses with area and state labor market demands and create a system of career-focused pathways that span the last years of high school and at least one year of postsecondary education or training that leads to an industry-recognized certification or credential.”

The first Pathways initiative in 2015 focused on Advanced Manufacturing, while the second initiative in 2016 focused on creating health care pathways.