Teachers get creative in teaching ag in school

Agricultural education provides students the opportunity to learn about where their food comes from while also reinforcing lessons in core subjects like math, science and reading.

Amanda Radke

April 5, 2019

4 Min Read
National Ag In The Classroom

I’m always surprised by which BEEF Daily blog posts get the most traction. I try to cover a wide range of topics from production management tips to fake meats to consumer trends to working alongside family in multi-generational operations.

In turn, your engagement on social media helps me better understand which topics resonate with you the most and what you would like to read more about.

One of my most popular posts to date has been, “Ag education desperately needed in schools.”

Here’s an excerpt:

“Agricultural education isn’t just for rural school kids; it should be a requirement in every urban school across the country as well. Kids should be outside, working with their hands and learning the meaning of hard work, the circle of life and the difference between pets and livestock.

“More than that, agriculture should be, and can easily be, incorporated into core subjects like math, science, reading and social studies.”

What I’ve learned through this post is so many of you recognize the importance of teaching agricultural literacy in schools. Yet, agricultural education continues to be on the chopping block in so many schools for various reasons, from budget cuts to demands for better standardized testing scores to rigid syllabuses to administrators not valuing hands-on learning.

Related:Ag Education Is A Smart Investment For America’s Future

In agricultural courses, students have the opportunity to learn how to weld, change a tire, plant a seed, grow a garden, raise chickens and eggs, cut wood in the shop or study the soil. These skills can be utilized into adulthood. And guess what? They also require an understanding of the core subjects that are so critical for our students.

As a mom of three, I appreciate our educators who go above and beyond to bring some of these unconventional lessons into their classrooms.

Each year, the National Agriculture in the Classroom Organization (NAITCO), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Farm Credit honor teachers who are innovative in introducing agricultural concepts into the classroom.

Last week, these three partner organizations announced eight teachers to be selected for the 2019 National Excellence in Teaching About Agriculture Award.

“We are proud to honor these teachers who use agricultural concepts to deliver important reading, writing, math, nutrition, science and social studies lessons to students,” said Victoria LeBeaux, the National Agriculture in the Classroom program leader for USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). This organization provides federal leadership and annual funding for NAITC. “The real-life connections teachers make by using items students use every day resonates with these students.”

Related:Georgia celebrates Ag Literacy Day with "Can-Do Cowkids"

According to an April 3 press release, this year’s winning teachers are:

  • Rachel Chastain, a special needs teacher at the Helen Keller Campus of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind in Talladega, Ala., whose students learn about agriculture and animal husbandry by rearing chickens and other small farm animals on school grounds.

  • Andy Klatt, a physical education teacher at Grandview Elementary in Windsor, Colo., who uses a school garden and an after-school garden club to teach students throughout the school about the importance of healthy eating and exercise.

  • A team of five teachers - Dawn Chehab, Joshua Garrett, John Martinez, Erica Roberts and Nicholas Zebroski – at Millennia Gardens Elementary School in Orlando, Fla. They established an ‘Eco-Club’ to teach students in third through fifth grade about growing food in raised bed gardens and hydroponics towers, protecting the environment and being good stewards of the land with a wildlife sanctuary and developing alternative energy sources with a ‘Pedal-A-Watt’ bicycling station that powers the school garden irrigation system.

  • Beth Sletta, a STEM teacher at Jefferson Elementary in New Ulm, Minn. Her students designed a winter seed sowing system to grow vegetables when it’s too cold to grow them outside and use a 3-D printer to design longer lasting plant stakes, among other initiatives.

  • Johnnie Keel, a math and gifted teacher at Truman Elementary in Oklahoma City, Okla., whose third, fourth and fifth graders research farm equipment designs online and build miniature versions of this machinery using Legos. They also participate in a STEM Day to learn about chemistry and genetics in agriculture, among other projects.

  • Dawn Alexander, a fifth-grade teacher at Tom McCall Elementary in Redmond, Ore., who uses bees and a project called ‘Please the Bees’ to educate students about agriculture and the environment.

  • Brad Hendershot, a science teacher at Excelsior Academy in Salt Lake City, Utah, whose sixth, seventh and eighth graders participate in a special class called Greenthumbs. They work in two schoolyard greenhouses to grow, harvest, market and sell their fruits, vegetables and ornamental plants.

  • Chris Kniesly, a life science teacher at Twain Middle School in Alexandria, Va., whose students grow lettuce hydroponically, raise crayfish, cultivate mushrooms and produce hot compost to learn important plant biology and aquaculture lessons.

These educators will be honored at the National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference “AgVenture in the Natural State” June 19-21 at the Little Rock Marriott in Little Rock, Ark.

Do you know an educator who would be deserving of this award? Email me or join the conversation on Facebook. We would love to hear about the amazing teachers in your communities who are introducing their students to agriculture in fun and creative ways.

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


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