Ag Education National Ag In The Classroom

Recognizing outstanding agricultural educators

We need to bring agricultural education back to schools. It’s the best way to teach common sense and real-life lessons while incorporating core principles in math, science, reading and social studies.

While my classroom days are long behind me, Tyler and I are now entering into another phase of education as our oldest daughter Scarlett is nearing the end of her first year of preschool. So far, Scarlett loves everything about school, but her favorite part is when it’s her turn to have show-and-tell and be the teacher’s helper for the day. While she usually prefers to bring a favorite Barbie or other doll, I asked her if she wanted to bring a bottle calf this spring when it’s her turn to show something to her classmates. She told me no, and when I asked why, she matter-of-factly told me, “Well, the calf won’t fit in my book bag, Mom!”

I’ve always been passionate about agricultural education. From my 10 years in 4-H to my high school years spent in FFA and agricultural-based classes to obtaining my four-year degree in agricultural communications to reading my children’s book, “Levi’s Lost Calf” to elementary students, I believe these experiences not only offered me a foundation for learning core subjects such as math, science, reading and social studies, but the lessons learned were grounded in real-life scenarios and common sense solutions that would help me throughout my adult life.

Since President George Bush first introduced No Student Left Behind, changes in our school system have prioritized standardized testing and memorizing answers while leaving behind the critical lessons that can be taught only through doing, not by just listening to lectures. As a result, schools have been forced to cut agriculture, art, music, industrial tech and other hands-on educational pursuits that can be applied in future careers.

READ: Why agricultural education is desperately needed in elementary schools

A few weeks ago, we celebrated National FFA Week, which is a great time to highlight an organization that focuses on agricultural education and activities that build up the next generation of food producers.

Along this same line, the National Agriculture in the Classroom (NAITC), along with the USDA and Farm Credit, recently selected eight teachers to be awarded with the 2018 Excellence in Teaching About Agriculture Award.

“These teachers are examples of how using agricultural concepts in the classroom can successfully deliver important reading, writing, math, science and social studies lessons to students,” said Victoria LeBeaux, NAITC program leader for USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which provides federal leadership and annual funding for NAITC. “The real-life connections teachers make by using items students use every day resonates with them.”

According to the release, this year’s winning teachers include:

1. Jacqueline Holmes, a third-grade teacher at Triangle Elementary in Sorrento, Fla., who turned a love of horticulture into a schoolwide garden initiative to teach students reading, writing, math, science and social studies, good nutrition and the value of giving back to the community.

2. Wanda Small, a K-6th grade teacher at Atchison County Community Elementary in Muscotah, Kan., who partners with Kansas Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom, 4-H and Kansas Farm Bureau to educate students about the animal and plant sciences and cover the STEAM subject areas (science, technology, engineering, agriculture and math).

3. Julie Janecka, a fifth-grade teacher at East Picacho Elementary in Las Cruces, N.M., who uses a schoolwide unit on the chile, her state’s signature crop, to teach science, economics, cultural studies and nutrition.

4. Amy Gosier, a first-grade teacher at Milton Terrace Elementary in Clifton Park, N.Y., who developed a cross curricular unit on corn and whose students Skyped regularly with an Iowa corn and soybean grower as he planted, cultivated and harvested his crop.

5. Andy Roach, a fifth-grade math teacher at McFadden School of Excellence in Cane Ridge, Tenn., who uses a school garden and hen house to teach students how to measure the distance between seeds as they are being planted, and chicken height, weight and percentage change between the two as the chickens grow, among many other math lessons.

READ: USDA teams up with FFA

6. Jennifer Massengill, PreK-4th grade science and technology teacher at Hampton Roads Academy in Williamsburg, Va., who uses a school garden as the subject for a schoolwide blog group, afternoon garden club and morning cooking class to teach technology and plant germination, nutrition and genetics to teach science.

7. Livia Doyle, a fourth-grade teacher at Mineral Point Unified School District in Mineral Point, Wis., whose students launched a successful effort to convince state lawmakers to make cheese Wisconsin’s official state dairy product.

8. Amy Mastin, a middle school teacher at Laporte School in Laporte, Minn., who initiated a schoolwide, cross-curricular garden effort starting with each class planting hay bale gardens and expanding to raised bed gardens available to all classrooms and built by the high school construction class.

These teachers will be honored at the National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference “Agriculture for ME on Land and Sea” June 27-29 at the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland, Maine.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Farm Progress.

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