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2021 Excellence in Teaching about Agriculture Award winners


Eight teachers from across the country were just announced as the 2021 National Excellence in Teaching about Agriculture Award winners.

The National Agriculture in the Classroom Organization, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) and Farm Credit partner each year to honor teachers in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade (Pre-K-12) from around the country for the innovative ways they use agricultural concepts to teach reading, writing, math, science, social studies, STEM, STEAM and more.

“Many people think that agriculture teaches hard work and perseverance, and it does. But, these outstanding teachers recognize that agriculture also is fertile ground for teaching botany, biology, chemistry, finance, climatology, and arts, in ways that any age or level of students can understand, appreciate and apply to their daily life,” said Dr. Carrie Castille, director of USDA-NIFA, which provides federal leadership and annual funding for NAITC. “When a student makes that real-life connection to the lessons their teachers share, students continue to learn and absorb the true
meaning of those lessons when they leave the classroom. Innovative teachers like these are often responsible for awakening a student’s love of learning, nature and science.”

This year’s winning teachers are:

  • Christine Torosian-Klistoff, a kindergarten- through eighth-grade teacher at Fairmont Elementary in Fresno, CA, teaches her students important soil science and engineering lessons with a two-acre school garden in which they help test the soil pH, plant vegetables that do well in that type of soil and build an irrigation system, among other activities.
  • Mary Lynn Hess, a STEM teacher at Goldsboro Elementary Magnet School in Sanford, FL, involves all the students at her school in math, science, engineering, health, physical education, and technology lessons using a fruit and vegetable school garden, a healthy eating initiative and an “Enabling Garden” that allows students with physical challenges to participate.
  • Karen Garland, a kindergarten- to fifth-grade science teacher at Clark Creek Elementary STEM Academy in Canton, GA, uses a school garden to teach kindergarteners about the five senses, first graders about the water cycle, second graders about plant and animal life cycles, third graders about habitat conservation and soil health, fourth graders about the weather and ecosystems and fifth graders about erosion and other destructive forces in the garden and classification systems.
  • Kelly Gates, a fifth-grade teacher at Pride Elementary in Madisonville, KY, introduces agricultural themes, speakers, farm tours and special events to teach her students about seed germination and plant life  cycles, colonial era homesteading and farming, hybridization of daylilies and international trade, among other activities.
  • Tonya Claybrook, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at Highlandville Elementary in Highlandville, MO, uses the “Fabulous Fowl” unit and a schoolyard chicken coop to teach students the parts of an egg, the life cycle of a chicken and responsibilities involved in caring for 12 hens throughout the school year.
  • Martha McLeod, third- through fifth-grade outdoor science laboratory teacher at Fulton 3-5 Learning Center in Fulton, TX, involves her students in a schoolyard vegetable garden where each grade level investigates and selects a crop to plant and cares for it throughout the school year. She also has received a $10,000 grant to build an outdoor classroom tied to the garden.
  • Patricia Eshelman, a high school living environment teacher at Bolivar-Richburg Central School in Bolivar, NY, educates her students about agricultural concepts and careers by featuring guest speakers from all agricultural fields on “Farmer Fridays” and requiring students to maintain a school garden called the “Wolverine Environmental Education Center” where they are hired to take care of it through the
  • Tammy Will, an eighth- through 12th-grade teacher of chemistry, physical science, STEM, and general science at Morrison High School in Morrison, OK, develops and presents lessons and experiments on the chemistry of biodiesel made from soybeans, soil chemistry, the science and technology behind identifying and understanding GMOs and non-GMO food items, among many other agricultural concepts.

They will be honored at the 2021 National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference “Fields of Dreams” June 28 to July 1 at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines, Iowa.

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