by K. MICHELE TRICE
Teaching students the value of agriculture and the variety of forms in which it can be applied to daily life is important in our culture today, according to the two teachers selected by the Highlands County Farm Bureau to attend the National Ag in the Classroom Conference in Orlando this month.
Krystal Brown and Kylie Fitzwater are working to incorporate agriculture in their lessons with their K-5 students. Brown has been teaching for 17 years and is at Parkhill Elementary School in Avon Park currently. She teaches K-5, Pre-K, and STEM Ag courses. Fitzwater just completed her second year of teaching and is at Woodlawn Elementary School in Sebring. She teaches fifth grade, ELA, and social studies.
The mission of Ag in the Classroom is “to increase agricultural literacy through K-12 education.” The website goes on to define an agriculturally literate person as “one who understands and can communicate the source and value of agriculture as it affects our quality of life.”
The conference will feature a variety of workshops designed to provide curriculum ideas as well as opportunities such as farm tours.
In her work at Parkhill Elementary, Brown works with her students at a small farm that has goats, chickens, and turkeys.
“I’m excited to learn more ideas about gardening,” she says. “I feel like we have the animals down pat, and we started a garden this year. I want to bring back other people’s knowledge and ideas and apply them directly to my class.”
“So many kids are going home and going outside or learning life skills to be able to care for themselves,” Brown says. “One student this year expressed that he had never gardened before, and there’s a lack in that education, especially in elementary school.”
Fitzwater says she wants to show her students that they can be involved in ag regardless of where they live.
“Ag can be for everyone,” she says.
“Our school is in the middle of Sebring, and students don’t understand where our foods come from,” Fitzwater continues. “I want to give more awareness to that. Children benefit by understanding where their food comes from and from being able to make healthier choices.”
“We can grow snacks and toppings for burgers,” she says. “Taking ownership of what they can put out into the world and provide for themselves,” is a key component of what she hopes to impart to her students.
Highlands County Farm Bureau Secretary Danielle Daum has attended many Ag in the Classroom conferences through the years, and she recalls “it’s an amazing experience for teachers as well as for industry representatives encouraging teachers to use ag lessons to teach core curriculum.”
“These are great eye-opening experiences,” Daum says.
Daum says it’s important for students to recognize the value of agriculture in their daily lives.
“It’s not just the food or the wooden pencil. It’s parts in your vehicle or computer. It makes all of the things we make every day. It’s jobs and tax dollars.”
That’s a sentiment both teachers echo.
“In this day and age, it’s super important for kids to learn the skills to provide for themselves,” Brown says. “Growing plants and having animals teaches them that.”
Brown and Fitzwater are hoping to gain information at the conference to begin new organizations or clubs at their schools. Brown is trying to begin a 4-H program, and Fitzwater wants to start an eco-friendly or green club.
Daum says these two teachers were recommended for the County Farm Bureau to sponsor through the school system as being teachers who are interested in bringing agriculture to the classroom. The Orlando location of the conference this year made it easier to send teachers, and she says other counties are sponsoring teachers as well.