New agriculture teacher aims to continue with traditional events like ‘Kiss the Cow’ while helping students grow as leaders

Ag+teacher+feature

Audrey Seo

New agriculture teacher Shannon Deskin checks on how freshman Jelani Beason, one of Deskin’s fifth period Agriculture Biology students, is doing on an assignment last semester.

Esther Oh

Shannon Deskin grew up in South Orange County with parents who owned such pets as cats, dogs, horses, snakes, lizards and geckos.

“We always had animals,” Deskin said of her childhood Mission Viejo home.

But even if she was never surrounded by such creatures, the new Sunny Hills agriculture teacher said she would have still found her way to interact with animals.

In her four years enrolled at Mission Viejo High School, Deskin said she got involved with local animal foster and the Future Farmers of America [FFA] programs.

“I have had many sleepless nights with animals due to birthing difficulties and medical emergencies,” she said. “I regularly had foster animals, bottle-fed babies or other needy animals in my [Mission Viejo] home and have performed CPR on newborn animals that stopped breathing after birth.”

It’s also from her FFA involvement that she first met Sunny Hills agriculture department chairman and teacher Brian Kim, who was a part of SH’s FFA program while a student here.

“When I found out that there was going to be an opening for an agriculture teacher position [at Sunny Hills], I started to think about who in the area would be a good fit for Sunny Hills and immediately thought of Ms. Deskin because of the work she had been doing at Orange High School and their agriculture program,” said Kim, who first met Deskin in high school during their FFA-related work at the Orange County Fair.

Deskin, who teaches Advanced Animal Science Period 1, Veterinary Science periods 2 and 4 and Agriculture Biology periods 3 and 5, replaces the previous instructor, Jeremy Cates, who sent an email to all staff last summer announcing his departure but gave no other information as to what he would do next. 

WORKING WITH MORE THAN JUST PETS

Before her first teaching stint at Orange High School, the new ag instructor wanted to become a veterinarian.

That goal would take a turn after her teaching experience while attending classes at Mt. San Antonio College [Mt. SAC] in Walnut. 

“During college, I was a teaching assistant, and I fell in love with teaching people about animals,” Deskin said. “It allowed me to combine everything that I am passionate about.”

She enrolled in community college to save money; three years later, she then transferred to California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, with enough college credits to start there as a junior.  

After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science in a year and a half at Cal Poly, she remained at that university to obtain her teaching credential and master’s degree in agricultural science in two years. 

After getting her bachelor’s degree, Deskin worked part time at Mt. SAC and up until now, she has taught classes such as Animal Science, Handling and Restraint, Feline Management and Horse Ranch Management. 

While still at Mt. Sac, Deskin got hired at Orange High School, where she remained for three years as its ag teacher before coming to Sunny Hills.

KISS THE COW

As her predecessor Cates did in previous years, Deskin said she plans to organize national FFA Awareness Week next month, Feb. 19-26, including the annual “Kiss the Cow” in which an SH teacher volunteers to give a bovine a smooch.

Last year’s event was held virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic, and students had to watch a video of English teacher Randy Oudega give “Tank” the male bovine a kiss on the cheek.

Deskin said she has not heard from school officials whether the Omicron COVID-19 variant would also force FFA week to go virtual next month.

The new teacher said she’s also responsible for overseeing at the ag farm the breeding of animals – goats and sheep in particular – and students who raise pigs to show at the Orange County Fair and then later taken to market for consumption.

Since hired at Sunny Hills last semester, she started advising the Vet Science Club, a student competition team.

“Students are responsible for knowing breeds of animals, having the ability to identify parasites that harm animals and identifying tools that are commonly used in veterinary science.” Deskin said. “They also have [to prepare for] a knowledge test, and that’s everything from the ability for students to do medical math – like calculating drug dosages – [to] knowledge of animals; it could be behavior [questions].”

Last semester, the team competed in one in-person and five virtual contests; this semester, students are getting ready for eight more in person events before state finals, she said.

“The first in-person one [in November against up to 14 other teams] … they got second overall,” Deskin said. “This is our first time doing this in many years so the fact that they were able to get second overall against teams that have been established for many years, I think, was a good thing.

“They should be pretty competitive as we move forward into the season.” 

Deskin’s impact on the team’s success reflects her philosophy of education.

“I love getting students to the point where they are successful, especially if they are struggling a little,” she said. “It’s like an ‘aha’’ moment, and getting them to that point where they fully understand is my favorite part of being a teacher.” 

EARLY IMPRESSIONS FROM HER STUDENTS

Her students are excited for what she will bring to the agricultural department at Sunny Hills. 

“It’s been so fun to apply what I’ve learned in the classroom to the farm,” said senior Jasmine Lee, who’s in Deskin’s Period 1 Advanced Animal Science class. 

Last semester, freshman Jared Dye was in Deskin’s Period 3 Agriculture Biology class, and he said he’s looking forward to experiencing those “aha” moments.

“So far, Ms. Deskin has been a really helpful teacher who is available to help anyone who is willing to learn,” Dye said.

BIG DISNEY BUFF

Outside of the classroom, Deskin said she enjoys hiking, camping, riding horses and going to Disneyland with her annual pass. 

“I usually go Sundays. … it’s just kind of nice to go walk around and kind of escape from my normal life,” she said.

Even though the Anaheim amusement park was not a place her animal-loving family would often frequent, Deskin said her parents introduced to her other aspects of Mickey Mouse and friends.

“We didn’t always go to Disneyland, but we were a Disney family,” she said. “We were always surrounded by Disney, such as movies, Disney-themed birthday parties.”

Back in the classroom, Deskin said she’s looking forward to helping to develop her FFA students into leaders.

“One of the biggest points of FFA is to grow leaders, so I want to be there to support my students’ growth and leadership by giving them a place to explore anything they would like to explore,” she said.