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Growing the Future of Agriculture


Polk County Ag Teacher and Program of the Year Announced

These days Florida is most known for citrus, thousands of miles of white sandy beaches, and, of course, amusement parks. However, many of the original settlers to move into Florida were actually ranchers. They were much more interested in land for their cattle than in oranges or beaches… and amusement parks hadn’t been invented yet. In high schools across the state, this tradition and love for agriculture, has continued.

Each year the Polk County Farm Bureau recognizes an Ag teacher and Ag program of the year. Nominations for this honor are collected and provided by William Webb, Agriculture Resource Specialist for Polk School District. Mr. Webb gives careful consideration to the teachers and programs throughout the county.

“I look for programs that are growing and/or doing innovative things,” says Mr. Webb. For the Ag teacher nominations, he says he looks for teachers with exceptional devotion to the Agriculture and FFA programs. He also looks for teachers that go above simply what is expected for the sake of their students.

This year the honor of Ag Teacher of the year is being shared by TWO amazing teachers; Mr. Tim Bean and Mr Ray Cruze at Roosevelt Academy in Lake Wales. Mr Bean began teaching agriscience at Roosevelt 33 years ago, founding the ag program there in 1986. In that time, he says, the biggest change has been technology. “It changes how we teach, research, communicate, test, and keep records,“ says Bean. Mr. Bean says that his hope for his students is that they learn skills and knowledge that can help them choose a career they can enjoy and be successful in.

Being recognized, along with Mr. Bean is Ray Cruze. Mr. Cruze is also an ag teacher at Roosevelt Academy. Together these dedicated Ag teachers have developed and run a hydroponics program that teaches students about alternatives forms of agriculture. Through their experience in the hydroponics program, students learn how this, as well as other alternative forms of agriculture, can increase food production while also reducing cost and conserving resources like water and fertilizer. This leads to not only greater food availability, but better use of resources and teaches the students the importance of conservation.

These two great men clearly are shining lights in the Ag community. However, the honors do not end there. In addition to the Ag Teacher of the Year, the Polk County Farm Bureau recognizes an Ag Program of the Year. This year’s recipient is George Jenkins High School. Nominees are chosen on the basis of program growth and innovation, among other things. The Ag program at George Jenkins certainly fits the innovation bill.

I think most students would say they like animals. Many probably have a household pet of some sort. Maybe they own a cat, or a dog, or even something exotic like a snake or lizard. But, how many high school students can say they helped take care of their sick pet? Some, might be able to say that. How many could say they helped take care of other people sick pets? How many could say that they received training, in high school, on how to care for sick animals, or how to keep them from getting sick in the first place?

How many high schools have programs designed to give students the skills to do these kinds of things? George Jenkins High School does. Who has ever heard of a high school with a veterinary program? In a time when most schools have gotten rid of such vocational training as wood shop or auto shop, a veterinary program is truly innovative.

Designed to prepare a student for a career in veterinary medicine, the program a George Jenkins is truly worthy of this honor. The students in this program have the opportunity to work towards accreditation as a Certified Veterinary Assistant. This has the potential to lead directly into a job, after high school, and possibly even a lifelong career.

In an era when many schools have done away with programs such as wood or auto shop and even home economics, a program such as this  is of great importance. This sort of programs serves to show students that there are many great career options, even without spending years in college.

Clearly all the teachers, and other staff involved in this program are worthy of recognition. Congrats to the Polk County Ag Teachers of the Year and the Polk County Ag Program of the Year.

by MATT NORMAN