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September 01, 2003   Email to Friend 

Alabama Teachers Take Ag Into Their Classrooms
Debra Davis

Alabama Farmers Federation State Women's Committee Chairman Sharon Turner, right, shows teachers from Daniel Pratt Elementary School how to make "dirt babies"during the Ag in the Classroom Summer Institute. Shown here, from left, are Ruby Marks, Angie Barrett, Cindy Miller and Turner.
As more than two dozen elementary school teachers learned about the state's largest industry, it was easy to see why the Alabama Agriculture in the Classroom (AITC) program is so important. These enthusiastic teachers are the people who shape the minds of the next generation and, in some cases, will be the first to introduce them to farming and agriculture in Alabama.

The teachers were participating in the AITC Summer Institute and getting continuing education credit by attending the programs that covered three days. This year, Alabama AITC held two Summer Institutes, one in south Alabama and one in north Alabama.

AITC is an interdisciplinary educational program that promotes ag literacy for students in all grade levels, K-12. The workshops, however, were geared toward first- through fourth-grade teachers.

"In addition to classroom workshops, teachers toured actual farms, research facilities and allied industries," said Ashley Davis, spokesperson for AITC. "They also received curriculum packets and project ideas designed to help them incorporate agriculture into daily lessons."

This is the fourth year AITC has conducted statewide in-service programs. The Alabama Farmers Federation provided a gift of $275,000 to fund the Institute through 2004. Future AITC funding will come from the new Farming Feeds Alabama license tag.

Many of the teachers who participated this year said they were excited about introducing new activities to their students and using agriculture to strengthen interest in subject areas such as math and science.

Cindy Miller, a fourth-grade teacher from Daniel Pratt Elementary School in Prattville, attended the south Alabama workshop. She said crafts are a fun way to make things important to students.

"You have to find a fun way to present things for children to get excited. These workshops definitely have shown us that," she said. "These projects will help children learn what it takes to make plants grow and how important farmers are in our everyday lives."

Ruby Marks, a third-grade teacher at Daniel Pratt Elementary School, agrees.

"Now I can teach my children how cotton is grown--from the seed to the boll," Mrs. Marks said. "When students understand how things grow, they learn to appreciate our farmers, and it's important for them to know what all a farmer has to do to grow his crops. Plus, the information we learned about growing crops will work well with our soils unit we're already teaching."

Alfa Farmers President Jerry Newby said it's important that the organization encourage teachers to expose their students to farming.

"Teachers have one of the most important jobs in the world because they shape the minds of young people," Newby said. "Because so few people work on the farm, it is becoming more important that we share the story of agriculture and farming. These workshops allow teachers to return to the classroom with that story and share it with their students."

Amanda Nall, who teaches second-grade at Monroeville Elementary School, said the farm visits gave the teachers a new appreciation for the men and women who produce America's food and fiber.

"It was really nice to see farms up close and personal. I live in a farming area, so I've seen some of those things. But a lot of teachers have not seen farming equipment," said Ms. Nall. "It was really nice to be able to see the families who are behind the products that we get everyday."

For more information about the Ag in the Classroom program, visit www.alabamaaitc.org or contact Ashley Davis, director of the Alabama Farmers Federation Women's Division, at 1-800-392-5705, ext. 3280 or by email adavis@alfafarmers.org.

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