When the Student Becomes the Teacher

Jessica Anderson Receives Polk County Farm Bureau Accolade for Her Outstanding Dedication to Students and Agriculture

Jessica Anderson is this year’s Outstanding Agriculture Teacher of the Year recipient from the Polk County Farm Bureau (PCFB). She is outstanding in a field of many dedicated educators.

Anderson has been teaching ag at George Jenkins High School in Lakeland for seven of the eight years she’s been teaching, after starting out at Westwood Middle School in Winter Haven. She herself is a graduate of George Jenkins and the University of Florida. Not only is Anderson a local alumnus, she is a graduate of the ag program, too, and is proud to now be teaching alongside Jimmy Sweeney. Sweeney was a teacher at the school when Anderson was a student there, and he continued to mentor her throughout college.

Working in the veterinarian industry really struck a chord with Anderson, sparking an interest to share her love of animal science. Time spent as a substitute teacher made her realize that she missed the classroom environment. She enjoyed the kids and the lessons, so Anderson made it her goal to become an ag teacher.

Now she is the lead teacher of veterinary science at George Jenkins High School, working with upper-level students who are aiming to become certified veterinary assistants. These young people work with local doctors to gain valuable experience, with Anderson’s guidance and support. She describes her method for imparting real-world knowledge to the students: “We work really heavily with internships, so all of my seniors have an internship year where they are working in veterinary hospitals.” Over 20 offices coordinate with the school to accommodate about 50 interns each year.
The classroom is filled with hands-on activities and the class welcomes guest speakers often. “We try to make it as applicable and similar to the industry that my students could get,” explains Anderson. They’ve had speakers on topics such as hydrotherapy, acupuncture, large animal veterinary science, small animal care, and more. The Lakeland Police Department has also come in to speak about working animals, and students have visited Sheriff Grady Judd’s office to learn more about careers in law enforcement. Anderson wants her students to get a broad picture of the available options as they choose their educational and career paths.

Anderson’s students are committed members of their communities. She’s had several students dedicated to service that has done such projects as creating community gardens, establishing small cow-calf operations, students have competed in proficiencies in veterinary medicine, and many students are involved in ag services. “I think that’s what people don’t realize about George Jenkins,” Anderson expounds. “We’re in the suburbs, but our students do a variety of things.” Her students are doing everything from training service animals to raising livestock, to fragging coral in aquaculture. “I try to tell each student that I care about them, and they surprise you with how they perform, not just inside the classroom but outside of the classroom,” she adds.

Her mentor, Sweeney, enjoys working with Anderson. He notices that the students respond to her positively and that her demeanor brings out the best in them. She works hard to ensure her students receive the recognition they deserve, and her dedication to the school and students earns her the respect of her peers. “She’s a wonderful person who cares for the kids,” Sweeney points out. “She puts the kids first.”
Out of many dedicated and outstanding ag teachers, PCFB chose wisely with honoring Anderson with their distinctive award. She is a teacher worth praising and George Jenkins High School is fortunate to have her on their team.

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