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Friday, Jun 05 2009 05:50 PM

Real People: Woman devotes 35 years to agriculture teaching

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    By Casey Christie

    Casey Christie / The Californian Retiring North High ag teacher, Christine Dickson works on the school farm with student Robbie Keene, right, in the grape vineyard.

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BY KATIE STEINER, Californian staff writer ksteiner@bakersfield.com

When Christine Dickson was a student at West High, women weren’t allowed to participate in the agriculture organization FFA.

But that didn’t matter to her. She found a way — turning in entry forms for FFA competitions under the name “Chris.”

Of course, she was disqualified as soon as she got to events. She still competed, even though she couldn’t win awards.

Dickson has grown her interest in agriculture education ever since. In 1985, she started the ag education program at North High School.

Now, after 35 years, Dickson is retiring from teaching.

Jennifer Wilke, an ag teacher at Bakersfield High School, said even though Dickson often sends e-mails about her students’ achievements, she is not one to brag about herself. But Wilke described her as “one of those pioneering women” in agricultural education.

Dickson studied at Bakersfield College before transferring to Colorado State University. When she couldn’t afford to keep going, she spent three years with the Peace Corps in Belize.

She returned to Colorado State and graduated in 1976. She was the only woman in her graduating class of ag teachers.

When she started teaching at Arvin High School, there were only five female ag teachers in the state.

Now, 40 percent of California’s ag teachers are women.

Dickson said she is thrilled people still want to be agriculture teachers, and hopes to “teach those little kids you have to like what you’re doing.”

Dickson certainly still enjoys what she does, but she, along with 63 other teachers, accepted a “golden handshake” from the Kern High School District, encouraging them to retire early.

Dickson admits she is expensive for the district, and it can hire a younger teacher for less.

But she still plans to stay involved in agriculture education, at least on a part-time basis.

She’ll also do things she hasn’t had time for in the last 35 years, such as working for the Republican Party and spending time with her husband on their Woody ranch.

And of course, she’ll still be there for former students.

She’ll be there to help with scholarships, which she has pushed students to apply for; one her goals each year is for her students to earn as much scholarship money as she gets paid.

And she’ll be there to encourage and support them, just like always.

“She’s not going to give up on you,” said student Robbie Keene. “She’s always going to help you.”

And even though her last day was supposed to be May 28, Dickson can still be found around North High.

“You can’t just close the door,” she said, adding that she’s become “an extension of mom and dad. I’ve adopted some of these kids.”

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