By Josie Chance
Curriculum focused on cattle, row crops and wildlife resources filled the class schedule for nearly 80 educators at Alabama Ag In The Classroom (AITC) Summer Institute June 1-3 in Opelika.
It was Beauregard Elementary School teacher Emily Jennings’ first time at AITC Summer Institute. She said she is excited to take lessons learned back to her students.
“There is a big push right now for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, and that is what ag is,” Jennings said. “Ag is the solution to every standard I need to fulfill, and it is being offered here as a free resource. I can’t say ‘no’ to that.”
Teachers, Alabama Cooperative Extension System agents and Alabama Association of Conservation Districts coordinators visited farms and related industries to learn from experts. Stops included the Southeastern Raptor Center, Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine, Dixon Farms in Lee County and RL&M Cattle Co. in Chambers County. At RL&M Cattle Co., Jack Robertson thanked teachers for their work.
“We rely on y’all to raise these kids,” he said, addressing the teachers who toured his cattle operation. “We want to do whatever we can to help y’all do what you do best. If you need us, call us. We’re here for y’all.”
In addition to farm visits, teachers learned how to integrate agriculture into their curriculum and subject standards through hands-on activities. They also received continuing education credits and took home more than $450 in supplies, including books, magazines, posters and more. A handful of teachers won composting packets, soy kits and incubators for chicken eggs.
Chambers County farmer Kim Slay was part of a lunch panel that fielded questions from attendees. Slay, a former educator, encouraged teachers to help students discover all the occupations available in food production.
“We need kids in research and development,” Slay said. “We need those fresh ideas. They can think outside the box and help us.”
Other panelists were Lamar Dewberry from Clay County and Beth Hornsby and Mahlon Richburg from Lee County.
AITC Committee Chair Kim Earwood said she is always excited to foster relationships at Summer Institute.
“Our teachers are on the front lines of raising our most important people, our kids,” Earwood said. “We want them to know we are not giving them another box to check or another lesson to add before the end of the day. Our goal is to inspire teachers to view the world around them through different eyes and share that excitement with the young, curious minds of our state.”
New this year, the Alabama House of Representatives Ways and Means Education Committee, Alabama State Board of Education members, local legislators and State Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey attended AITC Summer Institute to learn how the program benefits youth, teachers and Alabama agriculture. Rep. Prince Chestnut, D-Selma, said agriculture fits the bill to get youth involved in constructive activities.
“Anytime you bring youth into agriculture, they grow up to be self-sufficient,” Chestnut said. “Many students go to college and have no idea what they want to become. If we give youth more options, more will step forward and say, ‘I want to be involved in agriculture; this is a viable option.’”
Shelley Jones, a special education teacher from Breakthrough Charter School in Perry County, has attended AITC Summer Institute for nearly two decades. She said the conference helps her discover new teaching methods to use across subjects. She also thanked institute coordinators for time and effort put into AITC Summer Institute, as she sees the impact it has on students.
“Thank you so much for this opportunity,” Jones said. “Thank you for spending your dollars to educate our children, and thank you to the farmers who feed us.”