Thanks to a program launched by two North Dakota agriculture teachers, 402 ag teachers nationwide have made a new friend in ag or strengthened an existing ag connection.

"We saw this as a way to lift teachers' spirits at a time (the COVID-19 pandemic) that's been difficult for teachers like everyone else," said Nikki Fideldy-Doll, ag education teacher at Center-Stanton (N.D.) High School. She and Breanna Bregel, ag education teacher for the Kindred (N.D.) High School, created and directed the program.

Their Adopt an Ag Educator program, conducted primarily through social media, involves exchanges of $30 to $40 gifts among the ag teachers, who come from every state except Maine, Rhode Island and Alaska. Participating ag teachers "adopted" another ag teacher and had the opportunity to add items such as letters of encouragement, favorite lesson plans and videos/photos of the teacher's program or department.

Some of the teachers involved in the program had considerable professional experience, while others were new or relatively new to ag education.

"We had a lot of brand-new teachers, first-year teachers who were new to the classroom, sign up for the program who were really looking for some ideas for the classroom," Bregel said.

She and Fideldy-Doll first planned to conduct the program only in North Dakota, but, based on their social media connections, decided it might have appeal elsewhere, too. They had expected to have no more than 100 participants, but were pleasantly surprised when interest continued to grow nationwide.

To pair teachers through the program, organizers conducted a survey that included such questions as favorite content area to teach, favorite teaching supply and "As a teacher I can never have enough ... ." In many cases, the person who received the gift hadn't known the person who sent it; in some cases, the two already knew each other, though not necessarily well.

Gifts exchanged through the program are to be postmarked no later than June 12, though many were sent earlier. After participants received their gift, they were encouraged to take a photo of it or a photo of themselves with their gift and post it on social media.

Teaching during the pandemic has been difficult for all teachers, but it may be particularly hard on ag teachers and other "hands-on teachers" who need to adjust labs and workshops for online instruction, said Bregel, who will teach ag education at the Wahpeton (N.D.) High School in the coming school year.

She and Fideldy-Doll are thinking about continuing the program another year, in part because it went so well and strengthened connections this year.

"That connection is what we were all looking for at this time," Bregel said.

"It's so cool to hear people say, 'I made a new friend in ag'" because of the program, Fideldy-Doll said.

For more information, search for #adoptanagteacher on Facebook and Instagram.