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UF develops online graduate certificate to help K-12 schools address Florida’s agriscience teacher shortage

Across the nation, schools are experiencing an agriscience teacher shortage. Agriscience teachers educate middle and high school students through applied STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) lab and classroom techniques, specifically using animal science, plant science and food science examples.

According to Tre Easterly, assistant professor of agricultural education at the University of Florida, the number of new teachers needed is higher in Florida schools along the Interstate 4 corridor due to the number of schools in that area, but agriscience teachers are in demand across the state.

To help remedy this scarcity of Florida agriscience teachers, the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) in partnership with the UF College of Education has developed a graduate certificate program to educate more teachers in agriscience education.

The Agriscience Secondary Teaching Preparation graduate certificate will be offered through the agricultural education and communication (AEC) department, part of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). Students can begin taking classes in August of this year.

This new certificate establishes a formal route for educators that leads to the Florida Teacher Certification in agriculture education at the secondary level. This is a formal Educator Preparation Institute (EPI), as outlined through the Florida Department of Education. The certificate is comprised of six online courses (18 credit hours) and is designed to be completed in two semesters.

Courses in the graduate certificate program include topics such as teaching methods; reading and English for speakers of other languages education; curriculum development, assessment and program planning; and professional skill development in agriscience education, among others.

“I hope school districts and career and technical education directors through the state will view the UF/IFAS AEC department as the best place to help alternatively certified teachers meet the requirements for licensure and work to become better agriscience teachers,” Easterly said.

The UF/IFAS AEC department graduates about 25 teachers a year, said J.C. Bunch, an assistant professor of agricultural education at UF/IFAS. UF has the only program in the state of Florida that educates students to become certified agriscience teachers.

The agriscience teacher shortage typically occurs when a teacher leaves due to retirement or to work in another agriculture-related field, or when a school adds an agriscience program or teacher to enhance instruction.

To make up for the shortage of qualified and certified agriscience teachers in the state, many schools will hire someone with a science or similar bachelor’s degree. These teachers will hold a temporary teaching certificate while teaching until they achieve full certification within two years after completing coursework and exams. The Agriscience Secondary Teaching Preparation graduate certificate qualifies as continuing education classes that are part of this certification process.

Easterly said there has been a lot of interest among agriscience teachers in this new graduate certificate program. He currently provides leadership for Extension programming for first-year agriscience teachers working on their certification in Florida.

Megan Schuster is a participant in Easterly’s Extension program. Several years after earning her business degree, Schuster looked for a career switch where she could mentor students. The opportunity to work as an agriscience teacher at Tohopekaliga High School presented itself, and her background in FFA and showing animals was an asset.

“[This certificate program] gives people other options to make themselves more versatile,” Schuster said. “Most of us find our passions later [after earning a college degree]. Programs like this help us make our future and do what’s right for these kids.”

Schuster is looking forward to adding business, agrimarketing and sales courses to her agriscience class curriculum at Tohopekaliga High School that will apply her background in business and appeal to the interests of the students. She is looking into pursuing the Agriscience Secondary Teaching Preparation graduate certificate with the potential for working toward her master’s degree.

Students completing the certificate may choose to continue with their studies and complete a graduate degree in agricultural education and communication if they meet graduate school admission requirements. Credits from the certificate program may transfer into existing AEC graduate programs.

For additional information or questions about the Agriscience Secondary Teaching Preparation graduate certificate, contact J.C. Bunch at bunchj@ufl.edu.

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The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) administers the degree programs of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). The mission of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is to deliver unsurpassed educational programs that prepare students to address the world’s critical challenges related to agriculture, food systems, human wellbeing, natural resources and sustainable communities. The college has received more total (national and regional combined) USDA teaching awards than any other institution.

cals.ufl.edu  @UFCALS

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