hen I learned about the LEAP program, it was an answered prayer.
So reported Joseph Gaddy, 1998 poultry science graduate of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, poultry industry professional and a new agriculture teacher for the North Carolina public schools. His words were part of an essay in the application for the Licensure in Education for Agriculture Professionals (LEAP) program.
Housed in the Colleges Department of Agricultural and Extension Education (AEE) and directed by Dr. Gary Moore, AEE professor and coordinator of graduate programs, LEAP is a Web-based teacher certification program in agricultural education for nontraditional students. The program certifies individuals who have baccalaureate degrees in agriculture and natural resources to teach agriculture in school settings.
And LEAP has the potential not only to answer Gaddys prayer for an accessible and workable means to begin a career as a teacher, but to help address the states dearth of agriculture teachers and, by extension, the critical teacher shortage faced both in the state and nationwide.
Because of the teacher shortage, our state Department of Public Instruction uses alternative systems for teacher certification, says Moore. One of those systems is lateral entry, which, he explains, is getting people who have degrees in subject matter, sending them right into the classroom and letting them take education courses while teaching. The stipulation is that within a year, you must have completed six hours of courses and six more in the second year, until you have the number of hours required by the state for certification.
Because, for years, Moores department has been contacted by people wanting to take courses to fulfill the states lateral-entry certification requirement, the AEE academic programs faculty decided to create a more systematic program.
During the 1999-2000 school year, as plans were evolving, Moore wrote a proposal to the American Distance Education Consortium for funding and got a $75,000 grant that allowed his group to focus on systematic development of courses.
Also the Distance Education & Learning Technology Application (DELTA) group at N.C. State played a springboard role, Moore says, through earlier funding in support of development of AEE distance-learning graduate courses.
And for every course LEAP offers, he says, We identified a professor at another university who had expertise in that area so he or she could help develop course content.
As for delivery of the courses, the answer was the World Wide Web. The courses are totally interactive on computer. To participate, a student needs a computer, access to the Internet and a degree in agriculture,Moore says.
Agricultural education is a small field: You might have four people in four different towns who need one course. We had been offering graduate courses on the Web with good results. So we set up courses specifically designed for lateral-entry teachers. Basically, to create the courses, we needed a computer and creativity.
And while LEAP is intended to serve lateral-entry teachers, Moore says a goal of the program is to reach prospective teachers before they enter the classroom.
Were trying to attack the teacher shortage, but also to increase the quality of the teachers who are prepared, he says. One way we do this is by involving other universities.
Thus, if you go online (to http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/agexed/leap) and click to the AEE 500 course, youll see that it was developed in partnership with the University of Delaware. Go to AEE 535, and youll see a syllabus with input from the University of Arizona and Washington State University.
Those are three of six other universities involved with LEAP that have rights to the course contents. There was a strategic geographic design in choosing our partners, Moore says. Our first priority was academic excellence, but our second was location. With this input from other universities, we improve the quality of the courses, plus we get their buy-in in terms of support, promotion, advertisement because this isnt only for North Carolina.
But North Carolina could be well-served because of it. Already among the new applicants is a May 2002 graduate of Michigan State University an aspiring agriculture teacher who not only hopes to be certified through LEAP but also to move to North Carolina to teach here.
Shell join a group that, as of spring, already includes 12 students.
During 2001, that whole year was devoted to course development, so we could officially launch in January 2002. But because of demand, we began admitting people to the program in August 2001, Moore says.
ne of those champing at the bit was Joseph Gaddy. In August, having decided to switch from flock supervisor with Perdue Farms to agricultural educator, he began his LEAP courses as he became a lateral-entry teacher at West Montgomery High School in Troy.
With the convenience of taking classes online, Gaddy says, both of the classes that I have taken so far have been very manageable. As a new teacher and father, I find my free time is somewhat limited. I like the fact that I can sit down at the computer when I get a chance and work on the weekly assignments.
I can spend more time developing a complete agriculture program at West Montgomery. This program will allow me to stay in the agricultural field, make a difference in the lives of young people and become licensed from the convenience of my own computer.
Thats an advantage that has brought a steady stream of inquiries, even from as far away as Japan, Moore says. The FFA organization is concerned about the teacher shortage and has put information about this program and a link on their Web site. Were getting a lot of hits from there.
Describing the current LEAP participants, Moore says that the average year the students got their degrees was 1993, so basically theyre people who want to change careers.
Its a good system because, as undergraduates, they focus on subject matter, then get some real world experience, then take these courses and head to the classroom with that combined background.
Furthermore, Moore says, the quality of our students is shown in that we have a 3.03 average undergraduate GPA among our program participants.
Four of those participants are Gretchen Gochenaur of Pittsboro, whose 1987 B.S. degree in horticulture is from the University of Maryland; James Faulkner of Port Royal, Pa., a 1970 dairy science graduate of Maryland; Frank Farbotko of St. Pauls, who holds a 1986 B.S. in agricultural economics from Tarleton State University; and Diana Glock of Mifflin, Pa., whose 2001 B.S. degree in dairy science is from Penn State University.
Gochenaur, who owns a garden center, sees teaching as an extension of her work educating her clients. In explaining why she wants to become an agriculture teacher, she says, There is a grand need for basic science education in our population. At this stage in my life, I want to give back what I have learned in my studies.
Faulkner and Farbotko both are making a career change Faulkner after retiring from 20 years in the dairy industry and Farbotko after a 15-year career in the military.
A person is never too old to learn and/or change careers, says Faulkner. The fact that, in some small way, I can make a difference in some youths life propels me to pursue a teaching career. Faulkner is currently substituting as a vocational agriculture teacher as he completes his LEAP courses toward certification, while Farbotko, like Gaddy, is a lateral-entry teacher. I am now accomplishing my life-long goal to be an agriculture teacher and mentor, Farbotko says.
Meanwhile, Glock has already begun student teaching in Pennsylvania. Because she was enrolled full-time in the fall, shes the first participant to be student teaching, Moore says.
Moore teaches the courses AEE 500, Agricultural Education, Schools and Society, and AEE 522, Occupational Experience in Agriculture. The other LEAP offerings are overseen by AEE faculty members Dr. Barry Croom, Dr, Beth Wilson, Dr. George Bostick and department head Dr. Jim Flowers, along with adjunct faculty member Dr. Deborah Boone of West Virginia University.
Their classes include AEE 503, Youth Organization Management; AEE 521, Planning Agricultural Education; AEE 528, Instructional Design in Agricultural Education; AEE 529, Curriculum Development in Agricultural and Extension Education; AEE 535, Teaching Agriculture in Secondary Schools; and AEE 641, Practicum in Agricultural and Extension Education (student teaching). Students are also required to complete courses in adolescent psychology and educational psychology.
The LEAP courses are available for online perusal to anyone. These arent hidden behind a firewall; were trying to help people, says Moore. But you have to be enrolled to be graded and certified.
For most lessons there is a pretest that is interactive, and several courses also require a textbook. Were using the power of the Internet, too, Moore says, sending the students to research at other Web sites, such as MSNBC, to view diaries of teachers work, or the San Francisco Chronicle, to read an article on the perspectives of novice teachers.
In fact, Theres a lot of interaction in our courses, Moore says. Many of the classes feature Web forums where students discuss topics, such as a recently assigned article.
first two semesters, Moore is pleased with the programs progress.
Its rolling along well, he says. And weve
received a lot of national attention. The people in the profession are
excited about it as a way to attack the teacher shortage.