Jessica Torres grew up in Clifton, N.J., just 15 minutes outside of New York City. The city was so close in fact that she could see the skyline from her house. When it came time to attend college, Torres traded the big city lights to become a Blue Hen. After completing her education Torres began working as a long-term substitute for an eighth-grade agricultural education class at Smyrna Middle School. Last year she made the move to Central Middle School and began teaching seventh and eighth grade agriscience. Torres is also the advisor for the school's FFA program. Earlier this month, she attended the Dupont National Agriscience Teachers Ambassador Academy at Dupont's Chesapeake Farms in Chestertown, Md. The program is designed to provide agriscience teachers with innovative teaching techniques. Teachers learn how to apply those techniques by engaging in hands-on activities on Chesapeake Farms. Upon completing the program, Torres was named as an agriscience ambassador.
Q: How did the Ambassador Academy inspire you to innovate in your classroom?
A: I'm adding some more labs. NATAA gave me fantastic labs and fantastic ideas. I'm full force going in and changing everything to make it more grade-driven and student-driven. Also, student organizations, as middle schoolers they do not know how to organize themselves. We learned the best way to keep a notebook and how the students can be responsible for their notebook and how to put it together in an organized manner.
Q: What did you take away from the program?
A: That teaching doesn't need to be teacher-driven, learning needs to be student-drive. They need to be responsible for their own learning and for their own actions.
Q: What do students learn in agriscience classes?
A: My seventh grade does natural resources and wildlife − a lot of the environmental aspects. My eighth grade goes into plant science and animal science. I'm also the advisor for the FFA program. We are a fairly new program; we just got chartered a year and a half or two years ago. We are just getting off the ground. This year they're looking to do a lot of community service. They're looking to do a lot of school involvement to get members coming in and joining.
Q: What do you like about teaching agriscience?
A: Middle school kids have this sponge of a mind and they like to absorb everything. I had a great time with what was coming out of their mouths. Sometimes they don't have a filter and sometimes they are absolutely clueless. I love teaching middle school because you never know what the day is going to bring. Everything is new to them, so they're excited about what they're learning. I like coming into a new challenge every day. When they come into my class, many of them think it's just about farming, but then we start learning about different things. I tell them 'When you walk away from my class if nothing else gets in your head, just know that agriculture is not just farming.'