Despite being in the middle of town, Edmond Public Schools’ agriculture program is paving the way for city dwellers and farm children alike to earn a transformative education.
It’s also the best agricultural education program in the state and region!
“People just think you are going to be a farmer and that is not true,” said FFA Club Reporter Aiden Coffelt.
For Coffelt, she has become a state champion in multiple FFA speech competitions but also is a state champion golfer along with her other school activities.
“We go to these state conferences, and they always have great speakers and I want to be like that,” Coffelt said.
The nationally awarded agricultural program offers the traditional courses but has continued to invest in classes which include speech competitions, agribusiness and podcast segments.
“There is something for every person in our program,” said Mason Jones, one of the three agricultural education teachers.
In 2020 alone, the program received a national award for being Oklahoma’s outstanding middle and secondary agricultural education program from the National Association of Agricultural Educators. The award also recognized the program for being the region’s best, which includes Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arkansas and Louisiana.
Emily Kennedy, a student of the program, received the FFA Degree, the organization’s highest award, given to less than 1 percent of FFA students nationally in 2019.
More than 200 students from all three high schools are part of the program, and AgEd continues to grow.
Traditional programs like horticulture, welding and raising animals are still a main part of the program, but Jones emphasizes that students don’t have to take those routes.
“You do not have to own an animal or raise an animal to be in our program,” Jones said.
Students can even conduct scientific research projects that relate to present-day challenges agriculturalists are facing.
This year four students placed in the top ten nationally in their research divisions. The students will learn their project’s final ranking at the 2020 Virtual National FFA Convention in October.
“It is rare to have a student come in with an agriculture background,” Jones said. “Even the small towns are seeing the change.”
With increases in technology, Jones and Leatherwood hope the program continues to attract new students and innovate to meet the needs of the market.
The program also has a nearly 50 percent female presence. Females have consistently held more leadership positions in recent years, Jones said. Often thought of as a male-only field, agricultural mechanics teacher Kenny Leatherwood said getting women into the shop to weld has led to several going into it as a career and one becoming a welding instructor for Francis Tuttle.
“It is amazing to see people build their confidence here,” Leatherwood said.
The sight of a student using a 3,000-degree blowtorch for the first time still gives Leatherwood a smile.
“They get to create things out here and that is exciting,” he said.
This mentorship towards students continues towards teachers as well with Leatherwood receiving the 2020 Oklahoma Teacher Mentor of the Year award.
Over the last 24 years, Leatherwood has helped the program grow into what it is today with livestock barns, a greenhouse, a classroom building, gardens and a small portion of a golf course to teach students about lawn maintenance.