By Kim Walter
WOODSTOCK -- Even though the students were out of school for the day, Shenandoah County's elementary school teachers got their own chance at some hands-on learning.
Agriculture in the Classroom, a national program, led training exercises Friday morning at W.W. Robinson Elementary School. The program's mission is to bring agriculture into the education setting, and in every subject possible. Lesson plans and additional resources are provided to all teachers who participate, but the actual training isn't just a lecture.
Elizabeth Davis, fourth grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School, said the hands-on activities were helpful from an educational standpoint, but also reminded her why the method of learning is important.
"It reminded me why we got so much out of it when we were younger and in school," she said. "We were able to use our hands ... it's a given for what kids need to be engaged in learning."
Teachers were split into two groups -- kindergarten through second grade and third through fifth grades -- and were presented with activities depending on the grade they teach.
Davis said the lessons were even more helpful because each one was specific to a particular standard of learning.
While Agriculture in the Classroom has been to Shenandoah County Public Schools before, senior education programmer Tammy Maxey said it makes sense for them to visit divisions more than once.
"Each year we choose a different theme, and we're constantly updating our information, hand-outs and activities," she said.
Maxey was an educator for around 20 years, and is the wife of a farmer.
"I know how much responsibility, knowledge and commitment goes into being in the agriculture business," she said. "It is very important to me that children understand where their food and products come from, how much work went into making it, and how agriculture can be worked into any subject. It's not just science."
For instance, Maxey said teachers are provided with books perfect for Language Arts lessons. The books, however, are focused on agriculture topics.
She said students and teachers alike are often surprised when they realize everyday products aren't coming from far away.
"There's so much agriculture right here in Shenandoah County, and the kids need to be aware of that," she said.
Davis also said she felt the Agriculture in the Classroom program was particularly pertinent to the school division.
"This county is one of the top five agriculture producers in the state," she said. "This education shows kids that the home they live in could impact their future. We've got a great FFA program, good state colleges with agriculture programs ... with enough knowledge on the subject, it could lead to a career for a lot of these kids."
"It really means something to kids when they can connect it to their lives," she added.
During training, teachers worked on an "Agrifiti" project, in which they put together a large poster depicting a local farm or garden. They also dug through soil, constructed a book and learned some songs.
"I think the teachers enjoy it ... they're kind of like kids when they work on the projects, sitting together, coloring, talking, laughing," Maxey said.
Davis felt it was a good use of a professional development day.
"Professional development is integral to what we as teachers do," she said. "If we aren't learning, we become stagnant. We must stay current with research and the best teaching methods. It was also nice to be led by teachers who know exactly where you're coming from."
For more information on Agriculture in the Classroom, go to AgInTheClass.org.
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org