By Morgan Graham
The Alabama Ag in the Classroom (AITC) Summer Institute equipped 77 teachers to share the importance of agriculture with their students.
K-4 through sixth-grade teachers from across the state submitted applications for the institute, which included workshops and farm tours in and around Mobile County, May 30-June 1.
For teachers like Shannon Summerville of Ossie Ware Mitchell School in Birmingham, Thursday’s farm tours were the first time they’d experienced farming firsthand. Summerville said seeing it up close makes him better prepared to teach his students about agriculture.
“My main reason for coming to AITC was to learn about farming,” said Summerville, who teaches sixth-grade science. “I’m from inner-city Birmingham, and I wanted to learn so I can teach my students and give them the experience of planting and growing fruits and vegetable from seed.”
Rehobeth Elementary School Assistant Principal Dusty McKinley is no stranger to a farm but said she came to learn how to better incorporate agriculture into her school’s curriculum.
“I step back from the teaching aspect, and I see the use of technology and how it improves production on farms,” said McKinley. “We need to continue to incorporate technology into our classrooms and let kids know they can get outside and work with technology.”
McKinley wants to partner with Rehobeth High School to use its greenhouse to germinate seeds for elementary school students and mentor them through the growing process.
Teachers weren’t the only ones who enjoyed the annual event. Farmers said they loved talking to teachers about how farming impacts lives and why it’s important to the economy.
Mobile County’s Brain Keller said it was a pleasure to host teachers at his tree farm.
“It’s exciting to share our story with teachers who are helping shape the minds and opinions of our future,” Keller said. “Having them tour real farms is a great way to show them the care we have for the environment and the plants and animals raised on Alabama farms.”
Teachers also toured Sessions Farms and Driskell Farms in Mobile County and Middleton Farms in Moss Point, Mississippi.
To kick off the conference Wednesday, Excellence in Agriculture Teaching Award recipients presented successful agricultural projects used in their classrooms. Other activities included hands-on crafts and discussion of online resources for agricultural lesson plans and games. Teachers received continuing education credits and over $275 worth of educational materials for their classrooms.
Summerville said the materials were great, but the experience and knowledge gained during AITC were immeasurable.
“We would not have food to eat if it wasn’t for our farmers,” he said. “I want my students to respect for farmers, know where their food comes from and learn how to grow it themselves.”
Alabama Farmers Federation Women’s Leadership Division Director Kim Ramsey chairs the AITC State Committee. She said hosting the event in Mobile showed teachers the diversity of Alabama agriculture, from dairy cattle to fruits and vegetables to tree farms.
“Not only do teachers learn new classroom activities, they also learn directly from farmers,” Ramsey said. “The tours and panel discussion are an excellent way to learn accurate information and learn how to dispel the misinformation consumers sometimes hear about farming.”
The Federation partners with the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries to provide the institute for teachers. Much of the support for the program is provided by the Alabama Farmers Agriculture Foundation, which is primarily funded by the sale of ag tag license plates.
For more information about AITC, visit AlabamaAITC.org.