Sweltering summer heat didn’t deter 95 Alabama educators from walking in farmers’ shoes during the annual Ag in the Classroom Summer Institute (AITC) June 4-6 in Birmingham.
The program equipped participants with hands-on techniques and supplies they can use to teach students about agriculture — including a bin full of books, lesson plans, brochures, posters and DVDs.
Although teachers earn continuing education credits for attending the institute, many said the greatest benefit was learning innovative ways to teach traditional information.
“It’s important students learn where their food comes from,” said Robinson Elementary Teacher LaTonya Sparks-Hinton of Jefferson County. “Before Ag in the Classroom, I didn’t know how to get the message across. Telling them milk comes from a cow is one thing, but showing them what a Jersey cow looks like, sounds like... and introducing them to an actual farmer would make all the difference.”
The opening session of the three-day conference featured an interactive workshop led by Beth Haynes of Bluff Park Elementary, Alabama’s 2012 AITC Teacher of the Year. Haynes shared tips to help incorporate agriculture into the classroom and demonstrated student activities on butter-making, Play-Doh®-making and reading food labels.
Following lunch with Alabama’s Watermelon Queen Jordan Skipper, educators heard additional tips from fellow teachers Kristen Tate and Michelle Revels. The Alabama Farmers Federation Communication Department demonstrated utilitzation of social media in classrooms and unveiled the new Alabama AITC Facebook page. At dinner, Monty Bain with the National Cotton Board spoke on the commodity’s presence in items ranging from X-ray film and currency to sausage casings and cooking oil.
A highlight of the conference was Day 2, which included tours of Jones Valley Teaching Farm in downtown Birmingham; Old Baker Farm and Morgan Creek Winery, both in Harpersville; and Blue Bell Creameries in Sylacauga, where attendees enjoyed a free scoop of ice cream.
Alabama AITC Chairman Kim Ramsey said the tours provided a fun, personal way to embrace agriculture and the people who help feed the world.
“Ag in the Classroom gives teachers an opportunity to meet the people who grow their food and fiber and ask questions about what happens on their farms,” Ramsey said. “The program’s mission is to provide teachers with learning opportunities through hands-on workshops and farm tours. Interacting with people who work in the agricultural industry empowers them to share the importance of Alabama’s No. 1 industry with students. Tours offer more than notes and explanations — they make farming real.”
On the final day, educators received “dairy good” advice from Jana Miller of the Southeast United Dairy Industry Association before dividing into groups for grade-level appropriate activities. Kindergarten-through third-grade teachers focused on make-and-take crafts from “The Very Hungry Alabama Caterpillar” activity book. Fourth- through-sixth-grade teachers met with Alabama Junior Master Gardener Program Coordinator Luci Davis, who provided tips on classroom gardens. The Summer Institute concluded with a graduation ceremony.
Honeysuckle Middle School Teacher Angeila Scarborough of Houston County said the experience was one she won’t forget.
“Since we arrived, we’ve been treated like royalty and learned so much we can use in our classrooms,” she said. “I can’t wait to get back and build a garden with my special education kids. Ideas taken from here help us teach students of all situations functional skills they can use later in life.”