Agriculture teacher relishes `ah-ha moments'

Carroll educator honored for strategies used to inspire students

September 10, 2006|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN REPORTER

Having been raised on a farm in Pennsylvania, Diane Safar said she appreciated the agricultural way of life and wanted to pass that along to future generations. So, she decided to teach.

Because agriculture is taught only at vocational schools in Pennsylvania, Safar became certified to teach biology so she could work at a regular high school.

After earning a bachelor's degree in 1998 from Delaware Valley College of Science and Agriculture in Doylestown, Pa., she applied to teach biology in Carroll County.

But when she found out she could teach agriculture in a school here, she jumped at the chance to share her true passion.

"There are lots of rewards" in teaching, she said one day last week as she supervised Winters Mill High School students working on an assignment about Maryland-grown products. "Those `ah-ha' moments when they really get it. Those are great."

Over the years, Safar has earned not only the satisfaction of seeing her students thrive, but she also has been recognized for her teaching strategies in agriculture and veterinary science.

Most recently, the Maryland Agriculture Teachers Association recognized her for professional excellence at its annual Summer Technical Update Conference in July.

Safar was selected by other teachers for "professional excellence" in a veterinary science program for students who aspire to work in the animal care or veterinary science fields.

Last week in a room adjacent to her classroom, Safar showed off the lifelike animal mannequins that were part of the lessons that won her the award.

She said the mannequins enable students to practice skills such as diagnosing illnesses, injecting medicines and listening to heartbeats.

Many of her veterinary science students go on to internships with veterinary clinics or kennels, she said.

Erika Durrant, 17, a senior who is enrolled in the veterinary science completer program -- which requires students to earn six credits in an academic strand -- said this is her third year as one of Safar's students.

Durrant said Safar's teaching methods have motivated her to stick with plans to become a veterinarian. The projects, Durrant said, make Safar's courses more interesting, she said.

"The way I learn, I'm more hands-on," said Durrant, who plans to study biology in college and hopes to attend Towson University or the University of Maryland, College Park.

Recently, students worked in teams of two or three to research nine Maryland-grown products, such as beef and wheat, and their byproducts.

Brendy Alvarez, 17, a senior, said she learned that beef is used to make gum and cosmetics.

David Brandenburg, 15, a sophomore, said he learned that a half-dozen counties -- including Queen Anne's, Talbot and Kent -- grow wheat in the state.

The students then created display boards to promote the products.

This week, their assignment is to bring in an edible example.

Alvarez and her partner, Crystal Gardner, 17, a senior, who studied beef, may bring tacos. Brandenburg and his partner, Travis Smith, 14, a freshman, are considering treating their classmates to pizza because of the dough that is a byproduct of wheat.

"I try to do projects that make it real-life [learning] for them," Safar said.

The display-board project, which many of her students said had opened their eyes to homegrown products, won Safar a teaching award in 2003 from the Maryland Agriculture Education Foundation.

"The way she is so passionate about what she is teaching makes you want to be like her," Durrant said.

Durrant recalled a day last semester when she was working on an assignment for Safar's equine science class. Durrant, who was in Puerto Rico visiting her grandfather, couldn't get her printer to work, so she e-mailed Safar to see if her teacher could print out Durrant's PowerPoint project. The teacher was happy to help.

"As long as she knows you're trying, she has the time to help you," Durrant said. "She inspires me."

gina.davis@baltsun.com

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