Jan Hill doesn’t expect to turn out any farmers from the Montgomery school where she is principal.
In fact, most of the students at Forest Avenue Academic Magnet will probably never work in the agriculture industry.
But when Hill and a teacher from the school attended an Alabama Ag in the Classroom (AITC) workshop a few years ago, they knew the program would be the perfect fit for their downtown Montgomery school.
“We saw the importance of it,” Hill says of the Alabama AITC’s Summer Institute. “We have children from all over the county, and they’re mostly all from the city. These children really had no idea about agriculture and the importance of farmers.
“The way we approached it with parents and students was to say, we don’t really expect our students to grow up to be farmers, but we do expect them to be leaders in their community. They might be legislators or somebody who can make a real difference in farmers’ lives down the road once they understand and realize the importance of that.”
Therein lies the purpose of AITC, which was established as a nonprofit in Alabama in 1982. It is part of the national Ag in the Classroom program, whose mission is to increase agricultural literacy for students in grades K-12. The program has been implemented in public and private schools throughout the state.
“I feel like it’s one of the most important projects we do as far as education, to show that if we didn’t have agriculture, we wouldn’t survive,” says Kim Ramsey, chair of Alabama AITC. “It’s a way that we can help educate not only young people but also adults about agriculture, help them understand where their food and fiber come from.
“A lot of people think that whatever they buy, whether it be food or clothing, that it just comes from a retail establishment, and they may not know about the blood, sweat and tears there were to produce that item.”
The Alabama AITC program uses several tools and methods to integrate agriculture into curriculums. It conducts a three-day workshop each summer for teachers, school media specialists, extension agents and others as a way to generate interest.
“It’s a time for teachers to learn about agriculture and the ways they can introduce agriculture to their students through hands-on learning and curriculum and books we share with them, as well as farm visits and learning about farm life firsthand,” Ramsey says.
Teachers and school administrators can apply for mini-grants available through the AITC Foundation. The program provides a variety of resources, including books, DVDs and materials from agriculture-related organizations such as the National Honey Board or the United States Cattlemen’s Association.
“We have a lot of materials we share with our teachers that they can share with their students,” Ramsey says.
Pumpkins, Corn and Peanuts
Not long after Hill and her colleague completed the Summer Institute, they mapped out a strategy to introduce AITC to Forest Avenue – literally. They painted a mural inside the school that showed a map of the United States. It displayed top agriculture commodities in each state, and students were presented weekly questions relating to the map.
“That map is still on our wall, and you’ll see classes stop by and looking at it for research and things like that,” says Hill, who has presented at a national conference of AITC.
The school also designates October as agriculture month. Field trips are held to places such as pumpkin patches, corn mazes and the George Washington Carver Museum in Tuskegee during the month, and each grade level focuses on a particular commodity.