Nebraska Agriculture in the Classroom (AITC), a program of the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation, headed back to school this fall with new, grade-specific lessons and activities for Nebraska teachers. AITC has a long history of creating resources tied to state education standards to assist teachers in connecting students to their source of food, fiber, and fuel – agriculture!
“Sensing a growing demand for our programming in the last couple of years, we added an educator to our team last summer,” said Megahn Schafer, executive director. “This fall, we had the opportunity to test that demand, and we are thrilled with the response to our increased offerings.”
Classroom visits provide students with opportunities to develop an awareness that agriculture is their source of food, clothing, and shelter. In the first semester of 2019-2020, 4,058 students from 208 classrooms participated in a hands-on lesson, up from 120 classrooms in the entire 2018-19 school year.
Teacher Lori Gladson at Belleaire Elementary in Omaha reported, “The (classroom visit) program encouraged interest and curiosity about agriculture and careers in agriculture. Engaging!”
Students learned more about their connection to agriculture during Virtual Field Trips (635 students from 31 classrooms), ag festivals (4,427 students at 5 festivals), and school and community events (1,373 students at 6 events).
Teacher engagement is another priority for Nebraska Agriculture in the Classroom. To date this school year, 200 current and future teachers have participated in the workshop led by the foundation’s director of outreach education, Courtney Schaardt. Schaardt led training at Doane University, the Nebraska After-School Conference, Peru State College, Creighton University, York College, and the University of Nebraska-Kearney.
Participant Kristin Collins said, “I am going to be a first-year social studies teacher and this course gave me a lot of great resources to work into the curriculum. I plan to use the lesson plans, interactive maps, and AgMag.” Collins now teaches fourth through sixth grade at Bayard Public Schools.
While classroom participation the first semester has exceeded expectations, the Nebraska Agriculture in the Classroom team aims for more growth this spring. New projects include “Hello, Gus,” a contest for classes to submit a photo of them with a paper steer showing how they are incorporating agriculture into their classroom. Signup for the Agriculture Reading Hour program is now open, and hundreds of volunteers will read and donate the book “Right This Very Minute” in local schools. For National Ag Week in March, staff have created book marks, placemats, and a coloring page for distribution across Nebraska. This summer, foundation staff will team up with Lincoln Public Schools to host a national expert on new science education standards for a teacher workshop that will include farm tours and the creation of new agriculture-based lessons for high school.
“For our team, it is a privilege to bring awareness to Nebraska agriculture. In a year when many rural Nebraskans are facing extraordinary challenges, we know it is more important than ever for all Nebraskans to understand the work of farm and ranch families and their contributions to our great state,” said Schafer.
Agriculture in the Classroom® is a program coordinated by the United States Department of Agriculture through the National Agriculture in the Classroom Organization. In Nebraska, the Agriculture in the Classroom program is managed by the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation.