by Courtney Llewellyn
Schools are back in session, and that means students are in classrooms – either physical or virtual in autumn 2021. It’s a great time to get involved with your local schools via Agriculture in the Classroom (AITC).
AITC programs are implemented by state-operated programs, aiming to improve agricultural literacy (awareness, knowledge and appreciation) for kindergarten to 12th grade teachers and their students. AITC defines an agriculturally literate person as “one who understands and can communicate the source and value of agriculture as it affects quality of life.” The classroom programs seek to improve student achievement by utilizing agricultural-based content as the context to teach core curriculum concepts in science, social studies, language arts and nutrition, according to their website.
During the virtual NAFDMA Summit earlier this year, Lauren Goble, an educational coordinator for Georgia Farm Bureau, spoke about why this program is so critical. Goble was a teacher for eight years, and she said AITC was an extremely important part of what she did in the classroom. Her position now allows her to work with counties across the state to get ag in the classroom.
“The mission of AITC is to increase agricultural literacy through K-12 education. The programs seek to improve student achievement by applying authentic, ag-based content as the context to teach core curriculum concepts in all subjects. Ag doesn’t just have to stay in the science classroom,” Goble said.
Many may be familiar with the acronym STEM (science, technology, engineering and math); Goble said AITC wants to add an A in there for agriculture, creating STEAM. “But when teachers don’t have a background in the subject, it can be hard to teach it,” she admitted.
Because agriculture varies so widely across the different climates of the U.S., each state chooses how they operate their AITC program. Resources available for the program include the AITC Matrix, a free, online, searchable and standards-based curriculum map for K-12 teachers. It can be found at agclassroom.org/teacher/matrix.
In addition, the American Farm Bureau Foundation has resources and projects available, such as the Purple Plow Challenge (purpleplow.org), in which students create solutions for real world, complex issues relating to agriculture. Schools that participate can win prizes through the challenge, including a 3-D printer. Goble listed myamericanfarm.org and agfoundation.org/at-home-learning as other useful websites for information.
If you want to expand agricultural literacy either on your farm or in a classroom, there are myriad opportunities to do so. There are dozens of National Day and Month celebrations for specific crops; National Ag Week is in March; National Ag Day is March 23. “The best way to get people involved with your farm is through activities,” Goble noted.
She suggested trying a Farm to School Taste Test. It will provides students with an opportunity to try a variety of foods, introducing them to foods that are locally grown and in season; it facilitates a change in food choices, allowing new and local foods accepted by students to be used at home; it creates positive food environments; and it’s a fun a memorable experience. Teachers can use the taste test as a science, math or language arts activity.
Goble said students tend to learn better when there are hands-on activities because it makes learning fun. Other activities you can be a part of include planting seeds, picking produce, feeding animals, trying new foods and cooking. Even hosting virtual field trips helps engage learners.
“If you can’t take the whole class, go yourself,” Goble said. “Take lots of pictures and explain your firsthand experience. You can make a video about what’s going on on your farm to give that first-person point of view.”