Gardens are a place of growth, and not just for plants.
Eight teachers won the 2021 National Agriculture in the in the Classroom Excellence in Teaching About Agriculture Award for their ability to teach agricultural concepts to students of all ages throughout their curriculums, and many chose to do so through a school garden.
A partnership for the students
The National Agriculture in the Classroom Organization (NAITCO), U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) and Farm Credit partner each year to honor teachers in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade from around the country for the innovative ways they use agricultural concepts to teach reading, writing, math, science, social studies, STEM, STEAM and more.
A common theme throughout a diversity of subjects
"Many people think that agriculture teaches hard work and perseverance, and it does. But, these outstanding teachers recognize that agriculture also is fertile ground for teaching botany, biology, chemistry, finance, climatology and arts, in ways that any age or level of students can understand, appreciate and apply to their daily life," said Dr. Carrie Castille, director of USDA-NIFA, which provides federal leadership and annual funding for NAITCO. "When a student makes that real-life connection to the lessons their teachers share, students continue to learn and absorb the true meaning of those lessons when they leave the classroom. Innovative teachers like these are often responsible for awakening a student's love of learning, nature and science."
A bright spot
"Honoring these innovative teachers for the ways they use agricultural themes to teach language arts, math, science, social studies and the STEM subject areas is the highlight of the year for National Agriculture in the Classroom and its Agriculture in the Classroom state member programs," said Tammy Maxey, president of NAITCO and programs director of the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom.
Farm Credit is proud to support teachers
"Teachers are key partners in agricultural literacy education, helping to shape the next generation of agriculture advocates through intentional and engaging activities," said president and CEO of the Farm Credit Council Todd Van Hoose. "Farm Credit is proud to honor these innovative educators and support their ongoing commitment to growing future leaders."
2021 National Excellence in Teaching about Agriculture Award Recipients:
Christine Torosian-Klistoff is a kindergarten through eighth grade teacher at Fairmont Elementary in Fresno, CA. She teaches her students important soil science and engineering lessons with a two-acre school garden. The students help test the soil pH, plant vegetables that do well in that type of soil and build an irrigation system, among other activities.
Mary Lynn Hess is a STEM teacher at Goldsboro Elementary Magnet School in Sanford, FL. She involves all the students at her school in math, science, engineering, health, physical education and technology lessons using a fruit and vegetable school garden, a healthy eating initiative and an "Enabling Garden" that allows students with physical challenges to participate.
Karen Garland teaches science for kindergarten through fifth grade students at Clark Creek Elementary STEM Academy in Canton, GA. She uses a school garden to teach kindergarteners about the five senses, first graders about the water cycle, second graders about plant and animal life cycles, third graders about habitat conservation and soil health, fourth graders about the weather and ecosystems and fifth graders about erosion and other destructive forces in the garden, as well as classification systems.
Kelly Gates, a fifth grade teacher at Pride Elementary in Madisonville, KY, uses agricultural themes, speakers, farm tours and special events, among other activities, to teach her students about seed germination, plant life cycles, colonial era homesteading and farming, hybridization of daylilies and international trade.
Tonya Claybrook is a fourth and fifth grade teacher at Highlandville Elementary in Highlandville, MO. She uses the "Fabulous Fowl" unit and a schoolyard chicken coop to teach students about the parts of an egg, the life cycle of a chicken and the responsibilities involved in caring for 12 hens throughout the school year.
Martha McLeod, a third through fifth grade outdoor science laboratory teacher at Fulton 3-5 Learning Center in Fulton, TX, involves her students in a schoolyard vegetable garden where each grade level investigates and selects a crop to plant and cares for throughout the school year. She also received a $10,000 grant to build an outdoor classroom tied to the garden.
Patricia Eshelman, a high school living environment teacher at Bolivar-Richburg Central School in Bolivar, NY, educates her students about agricultural concepts and careers by featuring guest speakers from all agricultural fields on "Farmer Fridays." She also requires students to maintain a school garden called the "Wolverine Environmental Education Center," which they are hired to take care of through the summer.
Tammy Will is an eighth through twelfth grade teacher of chemistry, physical science, STEM and general science at Morrison High School in Morrison, OK. She develops and presents lessons and experiments on the chemistry of biodiesel made from soybeans, soil chemistry and the science and technology behind identifying and understanding GMOs and non-GMO food items, among many other agricultural concepts.