NAITC Convention focuses on ag literacy, honors local teachers |

NAITC Convention focuses on ag literacy, honors local teachers

Story & Photos by Robyn Scherer, M.AgR.

Teaching students about agriculture takes dedication, passion and a desire to continue to learn. Hundreds of educators recently gathered in Loveland, Colo., from across the country June 19-22 to learn about issues in agriculture, connect with other educators, and visit area farms to continue their knowledge of agriculture. 

The first day of the convention, attendees attended pre-conference tours and networked with other attendees. The second day the opening session was held, and Don Shawcroft, Colorado Farm Bureau president, talked to the attendees about the importance of teaching young people. 

“The desire for knowledge is something we need to instill in our students. Less than 2 percent of people in the U.S. are engaged in production agriculture. This is the conference to improve student attention to agriculture, to how food is produced, and to how family farms, incorporated or not, produce the majority of our food,” he said. 

Cat Urbigkit, author, photographer and rancher from Wyoming was the keynote speaker for the opening session. She talked with the attendees about her story, and why education is important.

“If we don’t tell our stories, who will?” she said. “You need to tell your students your story.”

After the opening session, the attendees broke into the morning session workshops. They included harvest of the month, American history with Ag in the Classroom, From Farm To Plate: A Look at Modern Livestock Farming, The Literacy Cafe The Ag Way, Bringing Web 2.0 Tools Out of The Cloud and Down To Earth, The Gifted Garden: The Gift That Keeps Us Living, Some More Scrambled States, Invasive Species In Your Classroom: A New Twist On The Old Standards, and Being A Friendly Farmer. 

After the first set of sessions, attendees could pick between a set of mini-workshops. The sessions included animal care awareness, what’s going down on the farm, conservation classroom, utilization of agriculture in the classroom for a school-wide focus, a cornucopia of activities from corn to caterpillars, these healthy farms, soil to spoon, barnyard banter and agriculture in the west.

The session of utilization of agriculture in the classroom for a school wide focus was a workshop on different ways to bring agriculture into schools without agricultural programs. 

“Most of our children will not grow up to be farmers, but they may grow up to be community leaders or influential citizens who can make a difference to farmers,” said Jan Hill, a school teacher from Alabama who taught the workshop.

The National Teacher Awards Luncheon was then held, and Beth Marlatt of Hulett, Wyo., received an award for being one of five 2012 National Excellence in Teaching About Agriculture winners.

Marlatt holds a Master’s of Science in curriculum, with an emphasis in gifted education and technology from Black Hills State University. She is a mentor teacher and an Instructional Facilitator for Hulett Elementary School.

She has spent her entire career in Cook County, Wyo., where she has taught kindergarten through eighth grade throughout her career. She has integrated agriculture and natural resources into the class since she started.

She has brought agriculture into other classrooms through grant projects such as Journey Thru Wyoming, student-made movies, field trips, classroom collaborations, online games, WEN presentations and finally a series of books that celebrate Wyoming’s natural resources and agriculture. This year’s hardcover book is called “Rough and Tough: An Alphabet Book of Wyoming Cowboys and the Ranch Cattle Industry.” Other books in the series are titled “Bison on the Horizon” and “America’s First,” according to the Wyoming Ag in the Classroom organization.

Marlatt likes to use her creativity to meet the Wyoming State Standards through integrated projects. The projects are usually long term, and are intriguing to the students. “The projects are created with the help, input and guidance from the community members. The final projects are then shared and they celebrate with everyone in a big way, often there is a red carpet involved. Beth wants to weave all the skills together in practical way that stretches the students’ knowledge and application to their challenge their creative limits,” according to the Wyoming AITC.

Teaching agriculture is important to those in Wyoming. “Agriculture education is extremely important in Wyoming. Students become our businessmen, community leaders and legislators without understanding the value and role agriculture plays in our daily life and economy. Our goal is to bridge that gap and help grow our next Wyoming generation,” said Jessie Dafoe, Executive Director, Wyo. AITC.

In the afternoon, participants decided between an additional nine mini-sessions, and then nine workshops. One of the afternoon sessions, titled Agvocacy and Agricultural Literacy: Tools You Can Use, focused on different ways to teach students about agriculture, such as using online learning games, such as My American Farm. 

That evening, the Welcome to the West dinner was held. The dinner featured a country western band, Native American dancers, line dancing and a live auction.

The third day of the conference attendees attended Workshops-on-Wheels, which visited a wide variety of agricultural operations from horticulture to horses, and hens to dairy cattle. 

The final day of the conference, a water festival, which featured a variety of water related workshops, was held. This workshops covered rainwater, composting, riparian areas, water movement and seed starting. 

While at the convention, teachers from each state were also honored as the State Excellence in Teaching about Agriculture Award winners. The winner from Colorado was Cheryl Kula from St. John the Evangelist in Loveland, Colo.

Kula took the approach of helping the students to teach each other about agriculture. “Each student chose a favorite topic. When the teams were formed, the children began their research. I provided them with some guidelines, but they were allowed to create their own presentations. My students were very engaged and excited; and that was just what I hoped would happen. The class was able to learn about cattle, water, eggs, sheep and corn. The teaching experience was really fun for them. It turned out to be an excellent way of covering more materials while students learned in a hands-on manner,” she said.

Teaching students about ag is very important. “Urbanization is creating a society generations removed from the land. Production agriculture becomes a theory and a concept rather than an applied science. It’s important that today’s students know that food does not come from the lunch counter or the grocery store. Someone, somewhere planted seeds and grew a crop. The crop was harvested. The harvest was transported for processing or shipping and the result is on our plates. How is that process sustained? It requires knowledge of the science of agriculture,” said Bette Blinde, executive director for the Colorado Foundation for Agriculture.

She continued, “I don’t know about you, but I like to eat. I want to be able to keep on eating. I prefer to eat foods grown in the United States and even better, those grown in Colorado. We need people willing to become agriculturalists to fill the many jobs available in agriculture today and in the future so we never need to worry about our nation’s and the world’s food supply.”

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