Courtney Wade — True to Crabtree roots as ag teacherWade: 'I really want the students to see where their food comes from.'
Courtney Wade, a 22-year-old first-year agricultural teacher at Pisgah High School, is living proof that one simple motivational comment from a teacher can change a student’s life — and, in turn, positively eafect thousands of students’ lives in the future.
It wasn’t that long ago that Wade was an agricultural student and Future Farmers of America (FFA) member herself, across the county at Pisgah’s rival, Tuscola High School.
Her agricultural teacher, John Best, was by far her favorite teacher, she said.
“Mr. Best cared enough to take us outside North Carolina to Kentucky and Indiana for FFA events and he pushed me to receive the American Degree, the highest degree in FFA,” she said.
Although Wade was certainly in her element in the FFA, having grown up on a small beef cattle farm in Crabtree and having shown cattle, swine and sheep in local fairs since she was old enough to walk, she had never thought of teaching agriculture until one day during her senior year in high school.
Her teacher saw something in her that she hadn’t even seen in herself.
“I remember Mr. Best asked me, ‘What do you want to do?’ and I really didn’t know, and then he said, ‘You should think about teaching,’” said Wade.
She pursued her newfound dream and earned her Bachelor of Science in agricultural education from North Carolina State University in 2013.
After coming “fresh out of the gate” into agricultural teaching, this farm-girl-at-heart has made it a priority this year to offer her students a very hands-on, opportunity-rich experience inside and outside the classroom.
Wade’s students see her passion and enthusiasm for the program, and follow her naturally. Plus, she parks a tough-looking Ford F-150 pickup outside the classroom, which never hurts in establishing authority as a first-year teacher.
At Meadowbrook Elementary, Wade, working alongside Josh Justice, an Asheville native who taught horticulture and agricultural classes at East Rowan High School in Salisbury before accepting the horticulture teaching position at PHS in January, paired the high school students up with third and fourth graders to plant watermelon, pumpkin and sunflower seeds in the school’s garden.
The sunflowers were planted in memory of Meadowbrook Principal Anna Williams, said Justice.
Wade and Justice were presented with quite a challenge this year as construction to add more classrooms onto E building temporarily took down their greenhouse.
“A lot of people have been asking about the greenhouse, but we look forward to an upgraded, like-new one next year,” said Wade.
For this year, however, the students have planted a campus garden that includes potatoes, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, okra, green beans and bell peppers as well as several types of flowers, all of which will be available to the public.
“I really want the students to see where their food comes from because it’s amazing to me how many kids think food comes from the grocery store,” said Wade. “We also talk a lot in here about the local farms in Haywood County, like the tomato and other vegetable farms and the cattle farms, so the students will have that local connection.”
Wade is truly back to her Crabtree family farm roots on the campus farm where the students help raise chickens, goats, sheep, a dairy cow and seven nanny goats.
“We go down there and the students actually get to work with the animals and feed them and take care of them and they really enjoy that,” she said.
A total of 12 baby goats have been born this year.
When Wade watches her students watch the baby goats grow and make comments like “Oh my goodness, they have gotten so big!” she knows the classroom is actually coming alive before their eyes.
While Wade loves all the activities in Haywood County, her favorite part about the FFA is giving the students opportunities outside the county.
This year, the students have participated in several FFA competitive and career-development events including showing livestock in the Haywood, Mountain State and N.C. state fairs and attending the National FFA Convention in Louisville, Kentucky.
“A lot of these students would never have had these opportunities without the FFA,” said Wade.
“I have a lot of pride in the FFA because it’s a tradition for me and it gave me confidence and opportunities in high school,” Justic said. “When you put on that FFA blue jacket, you start smiling because it’s all about the respect of the jacket and a love of working with the land and the people.”
During one of those opportunity-rich trips this year, the FFA National Convention, Madison Mathis, Pisgah’s current FFA parliamentarian, said she was able to make up her mind on a career.
“I have always wanted to be a lawyer and I got to talk with an N.C. State professor who talked to me about being an agricultural attorney,” said Mathis. “He helped me decide to be an agricultural attorney because it combines my loves of agriculture and law.”
When Wade hears stories like that, she knows her favorite high school teacher’s motivation is already being passed down to her own students — and that makes all the hard work worthwhile.