Ernst selected as one of top agricultural educators in the nation
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Rockie Ernst, agricultural educator at Wiggins High School in Wiggins, Colo., is one of only six individuals nationwide to receive the Outstanding Agricultural Education Teacher Award, given at the National Association of Agricultural Educators annual convention in Anaheim, Calif., on Dec 3.
When Ernst began his position as an educator at Wiggins High School, he was the fifth teacher to rotate in within a seven-year span. Wiggins is a small rural community with a very strong agriculture industry. Through his time there, Ernst has recognized the potential of the program and expanded it to be reflective of the community.
“I accepted the position and took on the challenge to turn the program around,” Ernst said. “I believe that over the years, I have had a part in transforming the Wiggins Ag Department into one of the most solid programs in our state.”
Ernst has a teaching philosophy to empower students to be lifelong learners, to think on their own, to be problem solvers and to develop employability skills. Ernst’s students are developing useful skills for life and are taught responsibility and accountability in his courses. He makes the experience relevant to students by showing how important the subject matter is and how it can be applied in their life. This allows students to become actively engaged in their own learning. By expecting his students to keep financial records for Supervised Agricultural Experiences and fundraisers, he is developing essential financial skills to make a living. He also teaches that everyone benefits through serving others. It is evident he goes much deeper than only providing classroom instruction.
Ernst is a big advocate for experiential learning. His classroom instruction includes many Foundational SAE’s, but he encourages his students to develop and maintain Immersion SAE’s in order to get the real and complete experience.
“I believe that the SAE area is the basis for students to really get hooked on the ag program and individualize their overall experience,” Ernst said. “I have developed a brochure for SAE’s that is shared with parents. I work with my advisory committee and local community to get placement opportunities for students. For the students that live in town and may not have the opportunities to raise livestock or plants we developed a chapter swine feeding operation and constructed a chapter greenhouse. Both of these provided opportunities for members to get hired on as workers in a School Based Enterprise.”
One of the largest dairies in Colorado is owned and managed by one of Ernst’s former students. This began as the students SAE when Ernst first began teaching at Wiggins. The former student’s son is now a senior in the program and plans to attend college to further his education in agribusiness so that he may come back and help run the family dairy. This is one of many successful examples of Ernst’s experiential learning emphasis.
Ernst, who is currently serving as president elect for the Colorado Vocational Agriculture Teachers Association, has many strong community partners that assist in coaching teams for contests and chaperoning events and conferences. He has done an excellent job building a successful program and training lifelong leaders and learners, as well as engaging the community into the classroom.
The National Association of Agricultural Educators was founded as the National Vocational Agricultural Teachers’ Association in 1948. Today, the NAAE has grown to become a federation of state agricultural educator associations, providing service to more than 8,000 members nationwide in advocacy for agricultural education as well as professional development for and recruitment and retention of agricultural educators. Our mission, “Professionals providing agricultural education for the global community through visionary leadership, advocacy and service.” is echoed through the various programs and trainings offered to our members. For more information on the NAAE and agricultural education visit us at http://www.naae.org or check us out on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/naaeagedu. ❖