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Women in Ag: Adding Agriculture to the Classroom

We often talk about how the number of people with connections to farming are decreasing. This affects agriculture in many ways, but one I rarely hear talked about is in the classroom.

Many elementary, middle, and high school teachers do not have a background in agriculture. I’ve taught in the classroom during my student teaching experience, and I know the challenge of teaching subjects you don't know . . . small engine repair, anyone?

Those of us involved in agriculture know we use science, math, history, and other subjects taught in our schools everyday. That’s in addition to life skills such as decision making, teamwork, and problem solving.  But how do you use agriculture to teach common core concepts if you don’t have any agriculture experience?

The National Agriculture in the Classroom (AITC) program’s goal is to increase agriculture literacy in pre-K through 12th grade teachers and their students. According to the program’s website, “An agriculturally literate person is defined as "one who understands and can communicate the source and value of agriculture as it affects quality of life.”

Spend a few moments on the AITC website and you will find a database of agriculture curriculum, state agriculture facts, and a student center. There are quizzes for teachers to use in the classroom to gauge student agriculture knowledge and quizzes for students to take. I’m happy to report that I passed all the student quizzes, although I did miss a few questions.

One of AITC’s strengths is that each state has a program individualized to meet needs and issues within state lines.

In North Carolina, the AITC program is supported by NC Farm Bureau Federation.  Each year interactive K-5 teacher workshops are held, “Going Local” grants are awarded, and Ag Science Nights are held. 

They have a “Book of the Month” program offering books, selected by experts, that introduce agricultural concepts or commodities to students. Those books are accompanied by activities and lesson plans so teachers don’t have to develop their own. I’ve actually signed up for this program, even though I’m not a teacher, to help build my son’s accurate agriculture library.

I had the opportunity to speak to a group of teachers attending the NC AITC K-5 Teacher Workshop this week.  During the day-long training, teachers participated in hands-on workshops and toured an oyster research facility.  During lunch, Natosha Brinkley, a language and literature teacher, shared her experience as a Kenan Fellow.  Prior to her selection for the program, Brinkley did not have any agriculture experience. After participating in the program, she has changed the way she teaches, creating excitement not only in her classroom but also among other teachers and school administration.

Using agriculture-based content to teach concepts in the core curriculum can not only increase student achievement but also cultivate agriculturally literate consumers. 

What ways are teachers without agriculture experience learning how to integrate agriculture into their lessons in your state?

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