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June 23, 2006   Email to Friend 

Darryal Ray
(334) 613-4187
June 23, 2006

Harry Lazenby discusses the finer points of cotton farming with a group of teachers during a visit by the AITC Summer Institute.
AUBURN, Ala. -- Peanuts and cotton, blueberries and sheep, and eagles and plants were all part of the hands-on fun as Ag in the Classroom (AITC) held its annual summer institute June 13-16, inspiring teachers from throughout Alabama to take lessons in agriculture back to their classrooms.

Held at the Marriott Auburn-Opelika Hotel & Conference Center, the conference included field trips to Auburn University and nearby farms, along with various workshops.

Ag in the Classroom is a grassroots program coordinated by the United States Department of Agriculture. Its goal is to help students gain a greater awareness of the role agriculture plays in the economy and society.

"The AITC workshop provides participants with innovative materials and teaching strategies that increase student knowledge of the nutritional and economic importance of the food and fiber systems in their daily lives," said Amy Belcher of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries and secretary of the state program.

Sixty-two teachers from 30 Alabama counties participated in workshops geared toward kindergarteners all the way to sixth-graders. They also participated in a field trip to Auburn University's Raptor Center, the Old Rotation and the Plant Sciences Research Center.

Debra Spielmaker, Utah's AITC program director, launched the institute with a presentation of "Growing A Nation," a history of U.S. agriculture designed to support national standards for teaching American history. Educators can use the program and an accompanying CD-ROM to teach about agricultural innovations, research, and inventions that have positively changed and influence the lives of all Americans, their culture, economy and quality of life.

"We want to ensure that teachers have a reality of what farming is really like," said Dawn Lazenby, who hosted the teachers on a trip to a cotton and peanut farm operated by her husband Mitch. "Agriculture is a completely different world than what people assume. We just want people to understand where we are as an industry, how it's evolving how it's progressed, where their clothes come from, and why you have what you have on your table."

Patricia Massey, a first-grade teacher at South Montgomery County Academy, says the whole institute was an eye-opening experience even for her, the wife of a soil conservation technician in Crenshaw County.

"I've heard my husband talk all these years about crop rotation, and you know, some things just sort of go in one ear and out the other," said Massey, who was raised in the very urban setting of Atlanta. "But now I know what he's talking about. I'm so excited that now I can go home and say, 'Look, this is what I learned about crop rotation. This is what I learned about peanuts and lagoons and all these things you've told me about!' It should make for much better communication at home."

Valorie Stroud, a first-grade teacher at Goshen Elementary in Pike County, said the make-and-take creative arts workshop offered up plenty of good ideas to take back into her classroom this fall.

"It gave me a lot of arts and crafts ideas that the children will enjoy so we can teach in a fun way that will help the children learn," she said. "I live in a farm community, but many of my children have never even seen a cow and don't know anything about farming."

William Smith teaches fifth-graders science at Ladonia Elementary School in Russell County, and had plenty of lesson ideas after the group toured Frank Randle's Community Supported Agriculture farm in Auburn.

"I see science and technology, the new equipment, all the ways of doing things, timelines of this is what we had and this is where we are now," he said. "I can do concept mapping, webbing. Sometimes, it's a cycle. I noticed while visiting the CSA that some things have cycled back to where we are. I like the CSA concept. That would work with many things."

"My focus in the classroom is on solving problems," Smith added. "I try to have the kids make a lot of choices. I believe that at the end of the school day that children should be more tired than I am because they've made more choices."

The AITC Summer Institute is funded in part by proceeds from the Ag Tag license plates.

For more information, visit www.alabamaaitc.org or contact Kim Earwood, director of the Alabama Farmers Federation's Women's Division, at 1-800-392-5705, ext. 3280, or kearwood@alfafarmers.org.

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