Melissa Cunningham, agricultural educator at Trumbull High School, is one of a select group of agriculture teachers nationwide who received the 2015 Teachers Turn the Key (TTTK) professional development scholarship. As a scholarship recipient, Cunningham attended the National Association of Agricultural Educators annual convention in New Orleans, November 17-21.

The Teachers Turn the Key scholarship brings together agricultural educators with four or fewer years of experience and immerses them in three days of professional development that addresses issues specific to the early years of teaching agriculture. Participants also have the opportunity to become involved in NAAE leadership and network with other NAAE convention attendees. TTTK awardees come away from the experience with a long-lasting peer cohort and tools that will help them have successful careers as agricultural educators.

Cunningham teaches three courses; Introduction to Agricultural Mechanics, Plant Science, and Equine Science. As part of her Equine Science class, she has created a barn design and business management activity where students become barn managers on a weekly basis, and assign chores and responsibilities to other class members. This project allows students to apply what they learn in the classroom in real-life situations. She tries to design engaging lessons by making them entertaining, like playing The Price is Right in Plant Science.

“I try to open as many doors as possible for my students, opportunities that maybe they wouldn’t think about on their own. The hands-on nature of the agricultural science classroom is what really resonates with me as a teacher. Students learn best by doing, by viewing first-hand and applying classroom knowledge to concrete situations,” said Cunningham.