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Pennsylvania ACTE Summer 2015 Newsletter


Growing Future Ag Workers for Area Farmers

PA ACTE Ag Connect

AgConnect Helps Farms Increase Visibility with Students
“This is not your great grandfather’s farming,” said Karen Smith Burden, business and industry specialist with the Bucks County Workforce Investment Board. “Farmers now have a pitch fork in one hand and an iPad in the other.” It is this image that AGConnect, a program focused on helping Southeastern Pennsylvania area farmers start, finance, and grow their businesses, wants area CTE students to see.

According to agricultural program manager, Jodi Gauker, AgConnect’s main focus is offering business training to local farmers. But the organization also understands the need to establish future farmers in the area.

Ag Connect helps local farmers develop showcases for area schools. Students come to their farm and see what working on a farm entails. Grants are used to help fund the students’ visits. Gauker said that approximately 3,900 students go through the farms in a year.

“These showcases are the bread and butter of our business to school partnership,” said Gauker. For example, she said students visited Herr’s Food. There they learned about food and animal science as employees discussed feeding cattle snack foods and how to balance that into proper nutrition for the animals.

Erik Stark, executive director of Snipes Farm and Education Center, recently had a group of students come for a visit. Students from several area technical schools spent half the day with them, touring the farm and talking about operations and sustainability.

“AgConnect is very helpful. They are a great partner to help us educate more students,” said Stark. “There is an awareness aspect to the education program. What we want to do with the high school students is show them career choices, especially if this is something they are passionate about. We want them to be excited about working on a farm. It will give us a larger pool of employees who are interested in agriculture.”

Snipe Farm employees also go to the schools with programs. The summer program at the farm brings about 20 students to take part in a “seed to fork” project where they learn agricultural and environmental science skills.

Burden explained how the rise in organic foods and locally grown products has peaked students’ interest in agriculture. She added that the showcases really help students who are on the fence about their agricultural education see what a job in agricultural really involves. “They do not realize how much technology is in the agricultural industry.”

The need for workers in the agricultural industry is there. According to Burden, the agricultural industry is keeping pace with other industries in the area. According to state data, Burden said there are 420 agricultural employers with 5,200 jobs. “The projection is if we do not do more to entice people, the more the gap will grow. We need to promote the industry.”

But AgConnect is not stopping at the showcases. In March, AgConnect had a kickoff event at Delaware Valley College, known for its’ strong agricultural roots, where 40 people from area farmers to agricultural related businesses networked to sharpen their focus on developing future farmers.

Snipes Farm also has a community college work-study student at the farm, serving as their marketing coordinator. Staff at the farm also serve as adjunct professors. “Certainly the training we did with AgConnect grant money will help our summer program staff be better educators,” said Stark. “And it will be a better experience for the students who attend this summer.” We envision doing other youth and career development programs. We have gotten good feedback through AgConnect about the visits.”

Burden said that AgConnect is looking at providing more events and aligning their programs with the high school curriculum. Their partnership with Deleware Valley and the kick off has them looking at internship possibilities and perhaps taking high school students to visit the college as well. 


Culinary Instruction: A Global Education

Teacher’s Passion for Travel, Culture, and Food Gives Students Unique Experience



“When I was first accepted to the program, I was so excited,” said Monroe Career and Technical Institute culinary instructor Tammy Stelmach about her opportunity to attend the famed Haute Etude do Gout in France. “It was so expensive and I just figured I wasn’t going. But when my students wanted to help raise money for me to go, my mind was made up that I was going. I was going to do this for them, too.”

“She is a very hard worker,” said senior Melissa Corrao. “She deserved to go. She would be a better teacher and be better able to teach us.”

And while Stelmach did not need her students to raise the money, receiving scholarships and funding from other sources, she was determined to make sure this opportunity of a lifetime would benefit her students as well.

“When she came back, she gave us a whole other world,” said junior Ross Manigle.

Stelmach was the only teacher out of the 30 people who attended the program. She spoke excitedly about her fellow students from various aspects of the food industry, from food scientist and molecular gastronomy experts to restaurant owners and entrepreneurs.

It was all the connections she made with her fellow participants that was truly valuable to her. Her fellow participants from 12 other countries, “meshed well. Our instructors said we were one of the most mature groups they had attend. We worked well together.”

Before she left France, she got everyone’s information and asked about skyping with her class. “I was able to give my students numerous field trips right in the classroom,” she said.

Stelmach listed everyone her 32 students skyped with, including a food scientist from Holland and how she works with specific food companies, additives, and how to make food. A chef from Israel took her students through his herb garden and made a meal while answering questions. Stelmach also connected them to an editor from allrecipes.com.

“These people changed their work schedules and stayed up late to do this for my students,” she said. “The students really enjoyed talking to this 22-year-old entrepreneur out in Texas who developed his own vegan cuisine catering service mixed in with health and fitness. He is close to their age and inspired them to become more.”

“Speaking with Tanner O’Dell was a great experience,” said Corrao. “It is really inspirational to see someone so young start a business.”

Stelmach said that her students realize just how much these experiences mean. “Sometimes students can be stuck in their own world,” she said. “But they have taken advantage of opportunities from this.” For example, her students have sent recipes to the editor of allrecipes.com.

A Passion to Share
Stelmach has always had a passion for travel. A former airline employee, she said, “I have flown all over the place and developed a real passion for food and culture.”

Every other year Stelmach’s students can participate in an international tour of a country, cooking with chefs, seeing how food is produced, and other activities. She has taken students to Costa Rica, Germany, France, and Italy.

Her recent studies in France have also seeped into her own lessons. For example, she incorporated lessons on the olfactory epithelium and smell experiences with spices. “They are pretty amazed by the science involved,” she added.

“The gastronomy part is interesting,” Carrao agreed. “Our food looks better. Our presentation and plating is also better.”

Manigle added, “Tasting the spices from France and learning about the different spices and incorporating them just gave me a whole other taste to try.”

She also took what she learned about other cultures and eating socially to conduct an experiment with students. Stelmach explained that some of her students ate the way they normally do, quickly in the cafeteria, while others ate socially, making an activity and lesson out of their meal. They then recorded if they were losing weight, felt better, and making better food choices.

“I think my experiences have filtered down to the students,” she said. “I love learning, and they do too. Sometimes at the high school level, we feel like all the students need to know is the basics. But once you open the door, they get excited and they want to be there. I see it in my classroom.”

Which is why Manigle said, “This makes me want to travel more and see what else is out there in the culinary industry. I want to study culinary in college and then work on a cruise ship.” 

Pittsburgh Public Schools Add Promise to CTE

Pittsburgh Promise Opens Up Funds to Area CTE Students


PA ACTE Promise

“This is only my second year teaching, so I was in the field not that long ago,” said Taylor Allderdice High School HVAC teacher Jim Seagriff. “What we really need is qualified people. My colleagues have lots of applicants, but no one knows about the tools you need or has the problem solving skills. They really need to hit the ground running. There is a lot of work out there, employers just need qualified people.”

This was also what was being told to Pittsburgh Promise, a program that gives graduates of the city’s public schools up to $40,000 in scholarship money to pursue higher education in the state.

“We had been talking to business leaders,” said Eugene Walker, director of workforce development at Pittsburgh Promise. “They were looking for reasons to support the Promise. Potential funders wanted a way to tap into students for a qualified workforce. We needed to connect our program to those who can continue their education and help support our local workforce.”

According to Angela Mike, CTE executive director with Pittsburgh Public schools, Pittsburgh Promise funds students once they graduated high school. But after realizing the need, they opened the scholarships early for CTE students.

The pilot program allows students from three disciplines, health care, culinary and HVAC, to receive funding for college credits while still in high school. Students from Westinghouse 6-12 and Allderice, Carrick, and Perry High School can take part in the Promise during their second year in a CTE program, said Seagriff.

Walker explained that all students enrolled in these three CTE programs can take part in Pittsburgh Promise. Sixty-three students have taken advantage of the pilot program this school year. When the CTE students graduate, they are eligible to continue with Pittsburgh Promise, but the money spent during their high school education is deducted from the $40,000 awarded for the next four years.

“The benefits of the program are two-fold,” said Walker. “It offers young people the opportunity to shorten the amount of time in a postsecondary program. And it helps students understand that there are more options available. It shows the potential of CTE occupations. You can have a good job, with good money, and a good life without four years of figuring it out.”
Seagriff also said that the addition of the Promise has changed some students’ minds about the value of their CTE work. Seagriff’s students can complete about 23 credits through the Community College of Alleghany County (CCAC) while in high school, leaving half-a-year of credits left for them to get a degree.

“Everyone is impressed with how close they are to an associate’s degree,” added Mike. “They jump on board. They are happy to be a part of the program. The parents are excited too.”

Seagriff said one student has plans of going to medical school, using his HVAC degree to work his way through college. “It would be a good summer job to put yourself through school,” said Seagriff. “Another is looking at Pittsburgh Aeronautical Institute, going into the mechanical field. HVAC covers so many different disciplines like plumbing, electrical, and mechanical. They can go into anything.”

“The program gives us another advantage coming into college,” said Zachery Kovalsky, one of Seagriff’s students.

“Doing this now means we won’t waste time and money later,” said junior Tyree Carlins.

Both of the students said that have enjoyed their college course work. “It has given me a deeper understanding of electricity and how it works,” said Kovalsky.

Both of the students also said that they’re considering an HVAC career after they graduate and attending community college to finish their degree.

Unintended Benefits
Not only do the students benefit from the partnership, but the teachers as well. “The community college instructor comes in and we co-teach. That really helps me out. She is an electrical engineer and it helps me with my own learning. It is nice to have an extra set of hands to help out. It is great for the class,” explained Seagriff.

The career counselors from the schools also work with the program, teaching career readiness lessons, helping students build electronic portfolios, and helping them register at the community college after graduation.

“The benefit to teachers was an unintended benefit of this pilot project,” said Walker. “But the feedback has been that both the teachers from Pittsburgh Public Schools and the community college want more collaboration. It certainly makes the program more robust.”

The partnership with Pittsburgh Promise has also helped improve the image of CTE in Pittsburgh. “Having the opportunity to earn college credits has helped sell the program,” said Seagriff. “College credits are a big deal to students and parents. This increased desirability really helped us as a recruiting tool.”

“It changes the perspective of CTE,” said Mike. “Technical schools have a stigma of being for those who can’t cut it academically, but this program adds that culture of rigor. These are the only high school students allowed to access these funds in high school. It puts them up there with students who take AP courses. On top of them doing the coursework of their regular CTE programs, they are also doing postsecondary work.”

Walker added, “Making the scholarships available early makes high school relevant to students. It has also helped bring in potential funders who want to encourage young people in the workforce.”

Both Pittsburg Public Schools and Pittsburgh Promise would like to expand the success of the pilot disciplines to other areas. Mike said they are currently looking at the automotive and multimedia programs.

Walker added, “We are currently looking into what might be a good fit. A program that has a good critical mass of students and also might have employment needs in the future. This was the pilot year, so we are evaluating and looking at how many college credits are being earned. Secondarily, how many chose to continue on for their second year. We will also be looking at overall CTE enrollment because of the program.”

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ACTE is committed to enhancing the job performance and satisfaction of its members; to increasing public awareness and appreciation for career and technical programs; and to assuring growth in local, state and federal funding for these programs by communicating and working with legislators and government leaders.



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