Planting gardens for grades
Highlands Today – August 15, 2012
It’s back to school and time to learn the basics — reading, writing, arithmetic and agriculture. Yes, agriculture.
Thanks to Florida Agriculture in the Classroom, Inc., (FAITC) agriculture becomes part of the curriculum. For Florida students, it is especially important to learn about agriculture, as it is the second largest industry in the state, second only to tourism.
When students learn about agriculture, they not only learn to appreciate the industry, but they may consider careers in agriculture, develop a greater appreciation for the industry, become more informed consumers and, later down the road, become agriculturally-minded voters.
FAITC is a nonprofit organization that provides educational materials to Florida’s teachers to help them teach their students about agriculture using core concepts that they already are required to teach by the state, such as STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Teachers are provided with training and resource materials that are available online.
“We develop special resources specific to Florida agriculture to help teachers. For example, ‘Gardening for Grades’ is our newest school gardening teacher resource and will help teachers learn what to grow, when to grow, how to grow a fruit or vegetable garden, specifically in Florida, along with ways to fund that garden,” said Holiday Noel Hogg, marketing program manager for FAITC.
Grant money is also given to teachers to help fund agricultural school projects. Teacher grant deadlines are October 1 of every year, and volunteer grant deadlines are in mid-March of every year.
“We fund everything from hydroponic gardens to embryology projects and aquaculture programs,” said Hogg, who explained that the teachers enjoy this program because it offers them a unique way to teach students core concepts with hands-on activities. “Our materials teach engineering by having students build irrigation systems, or sustainability by planting gardens.”
Last year, thanks to a program grant, “the students at Parkview Pre-K and Prep Academy, in Highlands County, constructed a schoolyard garden with nectar-producing flowers, while raising butterflies and ladybugs simultaneously, entitled ‘Bountiful Butterflies in a Schoolyard Garden.’
“We raised 15 healthy butterflies and numerous ladybugs that we released into our garden. We were able to plant about 30 flowering plants that attract butterflies,” said Brittany McGuire, director and teacher at Parkview Pre-K and Prep Academy. The students also planted several tomato plants that produced over 100 tomatoes. “The children loved being able to eat the fruit of their labor,” said McGuire.
The educational experience allowed the students to learn about the interdependence between plants and insects.
“The project was also a great way for the students to work cooperatively to achieve a goal,” said McGuire, who explained that in addition to learning about agriculture concepts, the students strengthened their writing skills and scientific observation techniques.
K-12 teachers who teach any subject, and agriculture industry volunteers who are interested in educating students about Florida agriculture, are invited to attend the two agricultural training workshops “Project Food, Land and People” and “Keeping Florida Green,” offered by FAITC throughout the state for free.
Both curricula are correlated to Sunshine State Standards, and the workshops train teachers and volunteers on how to present the material to students. The workshops last five to six hours. Teachers who participate are eligible for professional development points.
While FAITC applies for state and national grants to help supplement their programs, a good part of the funding comes from sales of the agriculture specialty license plate, or the AgTag.
“Without the AgTag, our program would not be able to provide free materials and grant money to teachers and industry volunteers. We wouldn’t be able to update existing, or create new resources,” said Hogg.
You can purchase your AgTag through your local tax collector’s office or online for $20 (tax deductible), plus a $5 administrative fee that goes to the state. For more information, visit www.agtag.org.