2021 OUTSTANDING TEACHER OF AMERICA
Agriculture & FFA Advisor
Upper Lake High School
Upper Lake, California
Erica grew up on a large ranch in Winter Springs, California, which is not far from Upper Lake and she attended Upper Lake High School. Erica always loved animals and, while in high school, she was active in 4H and other school activities and worked at the local vet clinic during high school. The family ranch had about 2000 acres and Erica spent her childhood riding horses and dowering on the ranch with a large extended family. The thought of going to a four year college never crossed her mind until her high school counselor wanted her to go to a four year school. Reluctantly, she applied and was very surprised to be accepted to Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. She reluctantly decided to go to Cal Poly, where she majored in Agriculture Science with an emphasis in Forestry and Natural Resources. She earned her Bachelors of Science in Agriculture Science and then did a year of post grad studies in Agriculture Education and received her teaching credential in 2005.
As a teenager and into college, Erica really thought all she wanted to do with her life was to have a family and work with animals. During summers, she fought land fires in Lake County where she met a fellow SLO student who was also in the Agriculture Education program and she began to think that teaching might be something that would be interesting to her. So, she enrolled in the teacher preparation program, where she ended up doing student teaching and met her future husband. She completed her student teaching at Pitman High School in Turlock, CA, and after getting my teaching credential from Cal Poly, she applied and was hired at her alma mater where she began her teaching career in the fall of 2005. Erica was virtually thrown into teaching in a program without a home and with a very limited curriculum. Essentially, she had to start the program from scratch. Not a great way to begin a new career. While the school had technically been an approved FFA school since 1950, no program had existed since well before she entered high school as a student. Consequently, Erica established a comprehensive agricultural education program. She applied for a new Charter to get reinstatement for Upper Lake High as an official chapter on National Future Farmers of America. Using the guidelines of the National FFA she was able to write the Classroom and Laboratory instructional units, create experiential learning experiences and develop a leadership development programs for her students.
Erica found space for a lab for Ag Science classes and develop a farm for animals to be raised or for horticulture work. She developed and taught Remedial Math, Introduction to Ag Science, introduction to Ag Mechanics and an Introduction to Forestry to get the program off the ground. She had no tools or equipment to do anything in Ag Mechanics. In the beginning, all she could do was to teach shop safety and show videos of how to work on basic pieces of farm equipment. Regardless of all the obstacles, she persevered and was able to grow the program to where they are today.
As the program grew, she was able to take 12 acres of the campus, which they cleared for the school farm where they now breed goats. In 2008, the wood shop teacher retired and Erica was able to take over the wood shop, which she converted to a metal shop and was able to expand the Ag Mechanics programs. In 2015, her enrollment was sufficient enough for her to hire a full time Ag Mechanics teacher who took over the class and added a welding component which is now producing high school graduates with the proven ability to go out and get a jobs as welders. Erica wrote several grants to purchase the tools and equipment for the farm and the Ag Mechanics program. She has also developed the entire curriculum from only elective classes to all courses being A-G approved courses required for University of California and CSU admissions.
One of Erica’s greatest accomplishments was to get a bond passed that will allow Upper Lake High School to build a 9,000 square foot Career Tech Education complex located next to the current wood and mental shop building and the original district Bus barn. These buildings will be fully remodeled and be where all of the AG Sciences classes and laboratory will be housed. Erica hopes to be able to build an outdoor workspace area for larger projects where students can build tiny homes and trailers to raise additional money for the program and to give students career education in the trades. With the new lab facilities, she will be able to expand the Natural Resource Program for Industry and expand the Ag Science Pathway to include Agricultural Biology, Soil Chemistry, Ag construction, system and farm management and add advanced Ag Mechanical courses.
Erica says, “This has been an uphill battle, but we are making great progress and will soon have a state of the art Agricultural Program and complex and students will have several different pathways that will lead them to a successful future with skills that are valuable and useful immediately upon graduation either in college or in local industry.”
Erica wants her students to have confidence in their abilities and have skills that form a foundation for further development. She daily strives to develop good citizens who are confident leaders and who see value in community service. She wants them to focus on making their communities a better place and know that their efforts will have a very positive impact on their lives. She wants her students to have empathy for animals. And, regardless of interest, she wants them to learn how to treat animals, to learn about life and death and how to better feed people and to provide services for others.
Erica says, “The entire Ag program is very rigorous and highly academic. The beauty of it is that I am able to create a very interactive environment and everything I teach is applicable and relevant to their daily lives. I teach respect, not only for animals, but for one another. Students have to feel accepted and comfortable and safe in the classroom and that is what I strive for. I post this quote on my board and recite it to my students as often as I can to reinforce what I teach: ‘Learning to do, doing to learn, learning to love, loving to serve’ This little saying applies to every career and it is valuable to hear, believe and internalize.”