Cullinan excited to start ag education program at NPHS

July 22, 2018

Kathleen Cullinan has cultivated the soil and planted the seeds for the new North Platte Public Schools agriculture education program that begins this school year.

A graduate of North Platte High School, Cullinan has a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Oklahoma State University and has been hired to build the ag program for the district.

“I actually swore off teaching,” Cullinan said. “I said, I will never, ever be a teacher.”

She said when she graduated, she didn’t know what she was going to do with her life.

“I knew I wanted to work somewhere in the ag industry, but didn’t know where,” Cullinan said.

Then Matt Kreifels reached out to Cullinan. He is associate professor of practice in the Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication program and state director of agricultural education for the Nebraska Department of Education.

“He said Kearney High School needs a second ag teacher,” Cullinan said. “‘Would you ever be interested in going down that path?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, I really never have considered being a teacher.’”

Shortly afterward, the principal at Kearney High reached out to her.

“He said, ‘I heard you’re not working, you really should apply,’” Cullinan said. “So I had these two people kind of knocking down my door, like maybe that’s a sign that I should apply for this job.”

She took the job and helped start the ag program at Kearney along with Macie Wippel.

“Coming here it’s just a totally different experience because I graduated from here,” Cullinan said. “This is a program I would have died to have myself, so to be able to start it is very unique and I’m excited.”

Cullinan said there is a lot of support from the community, and she thinks the program will be successful.

“We’re going to have a lot of kids going through Intro to Ag this first year, because they have to take that course before they can take any other ag courses,” Cullinan said. “I had 105 students sign up for Intro to Ag, so that’s really exciting.”

She said the class will take up four sections.

“So we’ll have three Intro to Ag sections first semester and the fourth section being my planning period,” Cullinan said. “Then second semester I’ll have an additional Intro to Ag and a section of animal science and a section of ag welding.”

In the Intro to Ag class, Cullinan said, she will cover a broad overview.

“I’ll cover plant science, animal science, ag business, power structure, technical systems, food science, so you kind of cover all of the ag industries in the class,” Cullinan said.

NPPS recently had several new lab tables built that will be used for various activities.

In the past, she has done lab activities such as flower dissection and chicken wing dissection “to look at muscular structure and vein structure,” Cullinan said. “I did a full rabbit dissection in a veterinary clinic class.”

She said there are a lot of science applications.

“Another thing I’ll be using a lot of is Vernier LabQuest equipment,” Cullinan said. “They are basically these interfaces, they look like a mini-iPad, and you can plug in three different probes at once.”

The probes she has available to her class are a pH testing probe, a moisture testing probe, a light sensor, and oxygen and carbon dioxide detectors.

“So what we can do with those sensors, especially in plant science, we can determine what the best growth environment can be for a certain plant depending on what the requirements are,” Cullinan said. “You can test the soil and maybe the pH is too high, so you can adjust it as necessary.”

Cullinan said agriculture education tries to be as real world as possible, “which I think is unique.”

“It’s not do a math problem just to do it,” she said, “it’s like why are we doing this math problem; we’re trying to figure out spacing requirements for something.”

She said curriculum for ag education is limited, but she had the opportunity to attend a CASE conference this summer.

“Most of the time it’s us making (the curriculum) on our own,” Cullinan said. “What CASE does is provide curriculum for various classes you can teach in ag.”

Because her background is heavy in animal science, she wanted to attend the CASE Institute program that focused on the plant industry.

“I got this huge binder that is full of lessons for plant science, and that will be really nice,” Cullinan said. “I was able to go to that program through the Nebraska FFA Foundation. They received scholarship money from the Nebraska Soybean Board and DuPont Pioneer.”

Another aspect of stirring interest in ag, Cullinan said, is to build the Future Farmers of America program.

“In the spring, I had a couple of state (FFA) officers come down and they went with me to Adams Middle School and we talked to the entire eighth grade,” Cullinan said. “During that time we filled them in on what FFA and ag education was all about and what they could get involved in and all that.”