From Cows, College And A Career In Teaching, Aikens Finds Second Career Later In Life

Scot Aikens, agriculture teacher at Clymer Central School, reflected on his 13 years as a teacher at Clymer and his previous life as a dairy farmer. Aikens has been head of the agriculture program for the past four years. P-J photos by Jordan W. Patterson

Thirteen years ago Scott Aikens embarked on his journey as a teacher at Clymer Central School the unconventional way. From dairy farmer to full-time teacher, Aikens took the long route to becoming an educator.

Before becoming a familiar face in the hallways and classrooms at Clymer, he attended Jamestown Community College and State University of New York at Fredonia. And before that, he was in the family business of dairy farming.

In his large classroom with a tech-shop and a greenhouse attached to it, Aikens sat down and reflected on his long journey from a dairy farmer.

THE DAIRY FARMER

Around the year 2000, when his children eventually chose career paths away from the farm, who also experienced allergies whenever working inside of the barn, Aikens knew he wasn’t going to be able to pass the farm down to his children. He also knew he had to make a big decision involving the family farm.

Aikens decided to sell the cows that had been passed down to him by his father and his father before him. Having been in the family for three generations, Aikens admitted it wasn’t easy when he had to tell his father he was going to sell the farm.

“If I don’t have somebody to pass the farm onto, what might I rather do?” Aikens asked himself.

Aiken’s brother-in-law, who he sold his cows to, suggested he try education. Aikens would later speak with the former guidance counselor at Clymer on the potential avenues of which he could proceed. One of those paths included enrolling at JCC, graduating with an associate’s degree, transferring to SUNY Fredonia and then graduating again with a bachelors degree in elementary education.

He did just that.

SECOND CAREER

While Aikens can now confidently discuss the unconventional way he earned his degree, he wasn’t always 100 percent on his decision.

“I hope this wasn’t a mistake,” Aikens said to himself when he loaded up his remaining cows that he had just sold to his brother-in-law.

The former dairy farmer now teaches eight classes a day within the agriculture program. He teaches classes involving mechanics, leadership, environmental science, vet sciences, agriculture tech, food sciences and forestry/conservation.

He is also the advisor of the Future Farmers of America (FFA) club at Clymer. Aikens said the club is now simply referred to as just “FFA” and not the full name because agriculture is “more than just farming.”

Aikens said the same about the classes he teaches. While he has a seasoned background in dairy farming, he said the information students receive from the program is much greater than only farming.

“Even if a student doesn’t pursue a career in an agricultural field, they will at least have a better understanding and appreciation of where food, natural fiber and construction materials come from,” he said.

The agriculture program begins in middle school with broader courses offering students the opportunity to learn about animal, plant and food sciences, as well as taking a mechanics course. In high school, Aikens said the program is more refined and students can choose to take the classes they want. Currently, the program has around 80 students taking courses, according to Aikens.

THE BEGINNINGS

While enjoying the agriculture position, he began as a first grade teacher in 2005, where he taught for three years until moving up to third grade for six years. Around this time the former agriculture teacher left to take a position at a different school and the Agriculture Advisory Board, which Aikens was a member of, began discussing the future of the program.

“The department had kind of dwindled and (the administration was) considering closing (the program),” Aikens said. “We got the advisory board together and actually about 20 people showed up. Former FFA members and former (agriculture) students pretty much testified as to what the program could be or what it had been.”

After it was being considered to keep the program, Bert Lictus, superintendent, and the school needed to hire a new agriculture teacher. But, according to Aikens, there was a shortage of agriculture teachers at the time.

“(Lictus) asked me if I would be willing to consider it,” he said.

One obstacle in the way for Aikens was that he was only certified to teach first through sixth grade at the time. But New York state offered provisions in career and technical education for candidates with experienced backgrounds. After gathering letters of recommendation from various places and businesses showing Aikens “competent,” he had to take a course to earn his certification, which he passed in 2014.

Lictus, who was there when Aikens took over the program, highlighted what makes Aikens a unique and treasured addition to Clymer and the agriculture program.

“He’s a family man who is local, born and raised in Clymer,” Lictus said. “He’s been a part of the community and is the fabric of Clymer. He’s got that hard work ethic you want in someone and he brings that to the table and kids can see every day that hard work and honesty is the key to success.

“He lives that in his life.”

IMPORTANCE ON AGRICULTURE

Lictus emphasized how important and rare it is to have someone with the experience that Aikens has to become the head of a program with 50-plus years of experience. And in Clymer, Lictus said it is even more important.

“In Clymer, it is a town that its history has been a dairy farming community and most of the businesses there rely on that in some way shape or form whether they’re selling supplies or services to farms or they’re farmers themselves which enables them to support the other businesses like the stores, the restaurants and the gas stations,” he said.

As for Aikens, the practicality of the program, the prominence of farming in Clymer and the impact of farming throughout the nation is why he believes its important to have an agriculture program. While he admitted there has been a decrease in the number of farmers, he maintained the reach of farming, in general, still impacts everyone.

He said that he has noticed a recent resurgence in the demand for agriculture programs and teachers. Aikens noted that a criticism of the Common Core Standards in New York state was that it lacked practical application and the increase in career and technical education, such as an agriculture program, is the answer to that void.

PRACTICALITY

Aikens noted that within the program students can learn about a range of different topics such as farming and food sciences to gardening and maintaining a lawn mower.

Garden plants maintained during projects are actually sold in the Spring to help support the program. In the tech-shop, various different machines are made available to students such as welding areas and a cam saw.

Attached to the shop is a green house where students can plant and watch the growth of different plants including various flowers, tomato plants and pepper plants. Also in the greenhouse is a fish farm that tilapia currently inhabit.

As the FFA advisor, he is also involved in the program outside of instructional time during school hours with various projects and competitions.

The large encompassing broadness of the program mixed with the more refined subjects are what makes the course special, according to Aikens.

“It gives them a lot of life experience that they might not get at home or in other settings or other courses,” he said.

He said he enjoys seeing students use the practical application of what they learn in other classes in agriculture. One example of that is posology, which is the study of dosages where students apply mathematics.

THE TEACHER

While Aikens didn’t intend to be a teacher 20 years ago, he said he is enjoying it now and hopes the agriculture program continues well after he retires.

Aikens, his father, his wife and his three children were all raised and later graduated in Clymer. He said the reason he sticks around is because of the small town atmosphere and the history he shares with the community.

In Aiken’s leadership class, he tells his students one quote he remembered his commencement speaker tell his graduating class back in 1976.

“Keep your bags packed because you never know where life will lead you,” he repeats to his students.

All these years later after selling his farm and thirteen years into his new life, he does not regret his decision.

The Post-Journal will continue to publish profile stories about teachers highlighting education in Chautauqua County. Suggestions from school administrators or parents can be sent to jpatterson@post-journal.com

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