HHS agri. teacher walks the walk
Ken McLemore, Hope Public Schools

HOPE – She walks the walk; bringing what she teaches in the classroom at Hope High School each day not simply from a text, but from her family’s farm and agricultural life.

Christina Smith, 26, teaches agricultural science at HHS, and was named the Hope Rotary Club Secondary Teacher of the Year for 2016.

“I’m not just teaching kids how to farm; I’m trying to get them to understand where their food comes from,” Smith explained. “They need to understand that milk comes from a cow, not the grocery store.”

Smith and her husband of five years, James, operate six poultry houses and manage about 150 head of cattle on a total of 500 acres of property under ownership and lease off Springhill Road between Hope and Spring Hill. The Teacher of the Year nomination letter to the Hope Rotary Club mentions that Smith uses the family farm as a hands-on teaching laboratory.

“We’re busy,” she quips.

The Smiths are also members of the Arkansas Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Rancher Board, which requires a significant amount of travel; and, she and her husband attend the Cowboy Church in Hope.

She is passionate not simply about farming, but also about agriculture in its broadest sense.

“Agriculture isn’t just farming,” Smith said. “If you’re selling clothing in a store, you’re marketing an agricultural product… cotton. We have a huge problem with people not understanding where their food comes from.”

Smith is a graduate of Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, with a Bachelor of Science degree in agricultural business, and Master of Arts degree in teaching. She has taught in the 9-12 agricultural sciences program at Hope High School for two years.

Teaching, she said, came from her home life.

“My mom is a special education teacher,” Smith said. “Before I started teaching, I always seemed to end up with students at the house from the community. I’d come home and there would be two or three kids getting riding lessons. I decided to go into teaching.”

Smith, who was an adopted child at age 14, is frank about her background; it is important to her.

“I was a person who always needed to be working,” she said. “Lots of kids don’t like to get dirty; I don’t mind.”

The HHS agricultural sciences program sponsors one of the largest and oldest Future Farmers of America chapters in the state. And, Smith is one of the faculty sponsors of the chapter, which annually produces the largest and longest-running annual student rodeo in Arkansas each April.

“And, it is run by the kids,” she said.

But, Smith recognizes that most of her students no longer come from an agricultural background.

“Honestly, we have a lot of kids who have no interest in agriculture when they get here,” she said.

However, Smith is insistent that her students understand agriculture as an industry, noting that she has one student who has no interest in farming, but is highly motivated by agricultural law. She notes that changes in the law have weighed heavily upon the industry as special interest groups attempt to hold sway on both sides. Consequently, agriculture education must dispel myths and fallacies about such things as treatment of animals during production.

“We have to take care of our animals for them to grow and make money,” Smith explains. “People who are not purposefully educated will believe all sorts of stuff.”

Smith admits that she has an infectious sense of humor, which she employs in teaching.

“If you don’t have a sense of humor, you won’t survive,” she notes. “A long time ago, I decided I was going to be who I was.”

She maintains that simply lecturing to students isn’t sufficient; they must be actively engaged. So, Smith makes it a practice to toss a blue ball about the room during class; literally passing her students the ball in class discussions.

“If you’re going to lecture and don’t spice it up, they are going to be asleep,” she notes.

Smith said she wants her students to develop a proper perspective about the impact of agriculture on daily life; and, if they want to learn more, the opportunities are available.

“We try to understand what is going on,” she said.