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Ocala Ag Teacher Enjoys the Garden Life

Ocala Ag Teacher Enjoys the Garden Life

Story & Photo by LISA ANDERSON

Christopher Roy is Deliciously Happy

If you go to school for equestrian studies in Billings, Montana, have a successful horse farm, move to Oregon to get a degree in Agriculture, and spend some time working on tugboats out of Seattle and Alaska, you probably don’t expect to become a teacher. However, that’s exactly what happened to Christopher Roy, a 21-year Marion County School District teacher.

“I figured I’d give it five years, and then I never left,” he says with a little smile.

Christopher grew up in Palm Beach County, and when his mom became sick, he decided it was time to move back to Florida. That’s when he received an offer to teach agriculture (ag) at Lake Weir High School. Being an adventurous soul, he thought he would give it a try, and he’s glad he did.

Discovering The Nuance

Everything felt natural to him at first: the bell, the schedule, the weekends off. But then, “I was introduced to more of the community and human side of things. I had a lot of kids with disabilities in my classroom, which I wasn’t aware of, going to school as a student. You don’t know all of the nuance teachers put up with. So, inclusion never occurred to me.

“Kids with disabilities and abuse cases and things like [that] were always in the forefront. I kind of had a pull towards that.”

In his third year, Christopher was required to get his permanent teaching certifications. That’s when he did something unexpected. “I kind of threw a wrench in the gears, because they were expecting me to put ag in, but, instead, I went with varying exceptionalities and started dealing with kids with disabilities and things.”

“I figured I’d give it five years, and then I never left.”

— Christopher Roy

As inclusion progressed, so did the requirements, and Christopher fulfilled them by obtaining an English certification. Around the same time, Christopher began co-teaching with Laura Martin, as an experiment for the county. “We were the only co-teachers to this day that were actually following the model. We were very, very successful at that. Many of our kids came in non-proficient and left with honors. I’d say 70 percent of the honors kids were ours,” he states with a hint of pride.

Moving with the Changes

The co-teachers taught English together for nine years. Around 2017, there was a change in administration, and the pair were split up. Christopher decided the program had run its course, and he applied for and was hired to work at Marion Technical Institute (MTI), as the senior English teacher. He taught honor students and high school seniors.

He wasn’t in his new position long when another change in administration at the top level meant changes for the program Christopher had been hired to teach. “They came in on January 13th, which was Friday the 13th, and they told us they were dismantling the academics and getting rid of all the teachers. I didn’t understand, because I was the English department. I had about 75 kids. One hundred percent of them passed the state exam. Every kid I had passed the state exam. No other school program could say that. Every kid I taught walked out of there with a diploma.”

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Christopher was confused about the reasons the administration would say the academics weren’t working, so when a former colleague told him of an ag position at Osceola Middle School, he jumped at the chance. At first, the district administration wasn’t going to let him transfer to the new position. They didn’t want to lose a valuable English teacher, but Chris argued he had been originally hired as an ag teacher in 2000.

The district relented under the condition he get certified for the position within the next three days. Four years later, Christopher is still happy with the move, which is evident in his voice. He gets excited, as he talks about all of the garden projects he and his students do in class. “My favorite part of what I’m doing now isn’t just the kids. It’s not just working with the children. It’s seeing the light bulbs come on. You explain to them where their food comes from, and then you help them grow something from seed, and they get to eat it,” he animatedly explains.

Happy in His Work

The school’s program is now funded by the Fitness and Nutrition in Schools (FANS) program. They teach kids about nutrition and eating better. “It’s really making a difference. I try to grow food they normally wouldn’t try. We compost all our own soil. We dress our gardens with our soil. We probably save about $600 dollars a year creating our own compost.”

The students learn about hydroponic systems, and the culinary program cooks some of the food for the kids in Christopher’s class to try. What they don’t consume in school or take home, Christopher weighs and distributes it to families and food shelves.

Bad days aren’t common for Christopher, but if they do occur, he takes full advantage of working in the garden after the students leave. He gives credit to the management of his school for much of his happiness. “The administration I have now is the best administration I’ve ever worked for. They’re caring and consistent.”

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