At first glance, the students on Durango High Schools FFA agricultural mechanics team dont seem to have much in common.
Tyler Campbell wears beat-up skater shoes and a fitted hat, Brandon Little sports a Demons soccer T-shirt and Decker ORands cowboy boots peek out under his jeans.
But when they start talking about welding, tools and machine parts, the similarities among the boys become obvious. They love working with their hands and have been more than happy to spend time at lunch and before school working on tool identification, practical tests and written exams related to agricultural mechanics.
And now, they also have a first-place finish to share. The team won the agricultural mechanics division of the national FFA organizations (formerly the Future Farmers of America) state competition last month, beating at least 40 teams. The DHS team will be heading to nationals in Indianapolis in October.
The win was unexpected for the boys and their FFA adviser, KayDe Naylon, a first-year agriculture teacher at DHS, who has never been a full-time FFA adviser before. The joke at the state competition was that people couldnt tell her apart from her students, 24-year-old Naylon said.
But Naylon embraces the fact that she doesnt fit into the standard agriculture teacher mold.
I consider myself a nontraditional ag teacher, she said. Im a sorority girl that became an ag teacher.
So far, Naylons nontraditional approach has worked well for the school and its FFA program. In addition to the agricultural mechanics teams win, two other FFA teams from DHS placed in the top five in their competitions. At the high school, demand for agriculture classes is increasing and after a few shaky years, Naylon has secured the agriculture program at DHS for at least three years. Meanwhile, membership in the schools FFA chapter doubled between last year and this year, she said.
A lifelong FFA member, Naylon is dedicated to adapting the agriculture program to the evolving industry.
The key to the future of career and technical education programs like agriculture is to keep them innovative and progressive, Naylon said.
We need to rely on instructors to fit the needs of various interests and reach out to wider groups of students, she said.
To that end, she is working to get agricultural business and equine science back into the offerings for career and technical education. Thanks to a grant from BP, she has reworked the agriculture programs curriculum for next year and is trying to work in elements of progressive horticulture such as hydroponics and aquaponics.
Career and technical education classes, including agriculture, are necessary and valuable components in education, she said, even in a society that increasingly emphasizes careers in the high-tech and service sectors.
My dad always said we dont need all doctors and lawyers, we need mechanics and people that can work with their hands, she said. These classes reach a different set of kids with different skill sets.
ORand readily admitted that the schools career and technical education classes were where he thrived.
Im not a sitting-in-class kind of guy, he said.
Because career and technical education classes have groups such as FFA associated with them, they provide an additional opportunity for students to pursue career-oriented learning, Naylon said.
Both Little and ORand said they joined the agricultural mechanics team because they were interested in careers in that industry.
I like working with my hands, Little said. Mechanicing is what Ive done since I was 3 years old.