MUSCATINE, Iowa–For Joshua Day, an agriculture teacher at Muscatine High School, connecting students with possible career paths represents one of the most important things he can do for them. “Kids need to work on making connections with careers before they graduate,” he stressed. Day himself learned that first hand when he embarked on his own journey to become an agriculture teacher. Though Day did not grow up on a farm, he got interested in agriculture by participating in Louisa-Muscatine FFA. He also found that going to contests and getting to travel helped him expand his horizons and gain confidence with public speaking. By the time he graduated, Day shared, “I knew after high school I wanted to be in the ag industry, but I wasn’t sure what part.”
Originally, Day studied agribusiness at Kirkwood Community College, but at the urging of both his high school ag teacher and the dean of Kirkwood, he decided to pursue a career as an ag teacher instead. Day earned his bachelors degree from Iowa State University after student teaching in Muscatine. After spending several years teaching elsewhere, Day returned to Muscatine to teach full time. “It’s nice–it’s like coming home a bit,” he observed.
In his 13 years of teaching agriculture, Day has striven to make the subject relevant to his students and to connect them to career opportunities they could pursue after graduation. To strengthen his skills, he began earning Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education (CASE) certifications and currently holds three of the four certifications available. He also started looking at ways to strengthen Muscatine High School’s agriculture curriculum so that more students could connect to the field the way he did at their age.
As Day and his colleagues worked on their curriculum, he decided to try to take it to the next level by applying for the CASE Model School Award. The lengthy application process asks teachers to explain how their curriculum incorporates foundational, advanced, and capstone courses into a sequence that prepares students for a future in agriculture. At Muscatine High School, the ag department currently offers a foundational ag power and technology course, which introduces students to common equipment and materials used in agriculture, the science behind how they work, and lets them gain experience in using some of them. As an advanced course, they also offer mechanical systems, which gets students working more in depth with common agricultural technologies, such as small gas powered engines and GPS and GIS systems.
In the next few years, the department hopes to incorporate capstone technology applications in agriculture class. In this senior level class, students will work alongside real businesses in agricultural mechanics to see how they apply the skills they have studied for the past two years. Though this course remains under development, Day continues to talk to regional businesses, such as Sinclair Tractor and John Deere, about how they could give students first-hand experience in agricultural mechanics. He also hopes to discuss adding this additional class with the school board.
As Day accepts his award and continues to assist in developing Muscatine High School’s agriculture curriculum, he hopes student engagement with agriculture keeps growing. “The award is great recognition, but we’re not there yet,” he said as he looks forward to the future achievements of his department.