Poultry has grown to become the top commodity in Georgia’s No. 1 industry, agriculture. Acquainting school-aged students with potential career paths in avian science is critical to staffing the state's poultry sector.
Building on the foundation set by Avian Academy, the popular continuing education course for teachers offered annually by the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES), the Georgia Department of Education worked with CAES to create middle- and high-school poultry science curricula. Now in its third year of use in Georgia public schools, the courses have been adopted by schools across the country.
Jessica Fife, outreach coordinator for the CAES Department of Poultry Science, worked with Christa Steinkamp, the curriculum and technology director for the Georgia Agricultural Education (GAE) program, and CAES faculty to design a poultry science pathway that includes a new poultry science course and avian science and biotechnology course for the state’s public schools. GAE oversees classroom instruction, supervised agricultural experiences and student organization involvement for the Georgia Department of Education.
Expanding agricultural education
Starting with the materials developed for Avian Academy, Steinkamp worked with Fife on a draft of the course standards, then created a course-standard writing committee including agricultural education teachers and stakeholders from industry and other institutions, including the CAES Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication (ALEC), University of North Georgia and Athens Technical College, as well as industry representatives including the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association and Tyson Foods.
“The committee came to a consensus that this was a lot of content for one course, so we decided it would be two courses,” said Steinkamp, a 1999 CAES agribusiness graduate. “Once those standards were approved through the Georgia Department of Education, Jessica developed additional materials for those standards to provide support for teachers who want to incorporate this into their teaching.”
Working with her graduate advisor, ALEC Professor Barry Croom, and poultry science Associate Professor Andrew Benson, Fife used the coursework and textbooks for the “Introduction to Poultry Science” taught at CAES to create the support materials for the curriculum.
“We had teachers and educators on all levels look through the curriculum and make sure the course curriculum was appropriate to those standards and something they’d want to use,” said Fife, who started the work as part of her thesis for her master’s degree in agricultural and environmental education, which she earned in 2020.
Preparing students for future careers
The Georgia Department of Education approved the poultry science course to count as a fourth science option beginning in the 2022-23 school year. By completing the required three-class coursework for the pathway, students will be recognized as completing the Poultry Science pathway in the Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources pathway under the Georgia Department of Education’s Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education framework.
“We created the standards and the pathway, but to encourage teachers to adopt it in the classroom, we created the full curriculum for that first poultry science class. We broke it up into units with timelines, activities, lessons, ideas for extra-curricular activities, and other resources teachers can utilize,” Fife said.
“Teachers can use the resources we have created and modify it based on the level of their students, how in-depth they want to go on certain topics, and how much time they have for each topic. Teachers each have their own personality and level of experience, they have different ways they like to teach, and they can create their own lesson plans using the curriculum,” she added.
As both the poultry science pathway and curriculum were approved for use beginning in fall 2021, the number of schools and teachers adopting the courses is still growing, but Steinkamp sees the curriculum and resources developed with UGA as a significant advantage to increasing knowledge about the poultry industry through Georgia’s K-12 schools. According to the Georgia Department of Education, there are 397 agricultural education programs in middle and high schools around the state, plus 57 agricultural programs in elementary schools.
“Teachers have so much on their plates, if they didn’t have those curriculum materials, it would be harder for them to incorporate these lessons. These materials make the courses more adaptable for use in the classrooms both in basic agriculture classes and in the poultry science and avian biology courses,” she said.
The classes are designed for a high school level, but instructional resources are also available for middle school agriculture teachers, said Fife, who does both in-person and virtual visits at schools in Georgia and across the nation. In Georgia, nearly 300 students have taken pathway courses in poultry science or avian science and biotechnology between the 2021-2022 school year and the current 2023-2024 school year.
In addition to Georgia, Fife said she knows of schools using the curriculum in California, Michigan, Arkansas, Texas, South Carolina and Delaware.
“The curriculum is available to anyone. There’s a middle school in California that teaches a poultry science class and they’re using all of our curriculum, and I’ve done virtual school visits in California, Texas and Michigan. While we created the pathway for state of Georgia standards, the curriculum has gained reach beyond our state,” she said. “It’s been exciting to see how many places are using it, and those are only the ones that have reached out to us to let us know they are utilizing the curriculum.”
While word-of-mouth may account for the reach the curriculum has enjoyed, Fife said Googling “high-school poultry lessons” is just as likely to account for some of the adoption, as UGA’s curriculum tops the search results.
“There was not a lot of poultry content out there for educators and a lot that is out there is outdated or has a very clinical content design,” Fife said. “All of our resources are also branded to the college and the department, so teachers can call us to set up school visits, farm tours and connections for industry partnerships,” she said.
Industry support for the creation of the poultry science curriculum has been overwhelmingly positive and has included support for agricultural education programs in top poultry-producing counties.
The industry is ready and waiting to kick-start the next generation of poultry scientists, Fife said. If teachers are willing to invest their time and teach the subject, members of the poultry industry are willing to support in whatever way they can.
To learn more about outreach and education efforts in the Department of Poultry Science, visit poultry.caes.uga.edu/community-outreach.