Middle Georgia Teacher Gives Students Food For Thought
By: Ed Grisamore, Macon Telegraph
1/14/2013 10:53:35 AM
Andrea Jones Seagraves grew up a city girl.
Every day she would ride past tall buildings, fancy boutiques and restaurants that served strawberry vinaigrette dressing on their salads.
So when Stratford Academy's Class of 1993 holds its upcoming 20-year reunion, some of her classmates may be surprised to learn that Andrea now lives on 30 acres in Crawford County and has chickens running around in her backyard.
There are quail eggs incubating inside her house. She is the groundskeeper of the family worm farm. Her son George has been showing hogs with the local 4H.
Her cell phone plays the theme from "Green Acres.''
Andrea is a kindergarten teacher at Eagles Nest School in Roberta. Friday has become her favorite day, and not just because it's the gateway to the weekend.
Farm Friday is now a tradition in her classroom at the small primary grade school on East Crusselle Street. Farm Fridays are the foundation for her acclaimed "agricultural alphabet.''
Today marks the letter "o." Onions will be the star of the show. Her 19 students - and 21 from another kindergarten class - will get to sample onion rings.
Andrea was recently named recipient of the Georgia Excellence in Teaching About Agriculture Educator Award.
The Georgia Farm Bureau recognizes educators who use agriculture as a teaching tool to increase agricultural awareness in their students. As the state winner, she will be a candidate for the national award in Minneapolis, Minn., in June.
She moved to Crawford County 10 years ago to be close to her parents, Tom and Gayle Jones. Her husband, Trey Seagraves, is the former assistant school superintendent in Crawford County and is now director of development for Mercer University's School of Medicine. The Seagraveses have three children - George, 10, and 5-year-old twins Mary Frank and Molly Edward - and attend Musella Baptist Church.
Andrea lived in Marietta until she was 12, when her family moved to Macon. She always wanted to be a teacher. As a child, she would gather her stuffed animals in front of a chalkboard and give them homework assignments.
"I loved going to school so much,'' she said. "When I was sick, my parents had to make me stay home.''
Andrea was an honor student at Stratford and graduated magna cum laude from the University of Georgia in Athens, where she met Trey. She taught kindergarten for one year at Burghard Elementary in Macon and for five years in Athens before moving back to Middle Georgia.
It made her sad and frustrated to know many of her 5-year-olds would one day fall off the educational ladder before they reached the top rungs. As they got older, some dropped out of high school. Many never went to college.
She began soul searching for ways to make her teaching methods more interesting and fun. Every morning she would tell her students. "We are here to get smart!"
She enlisted letters of the alphabet and began inviting volunteers from the community to speak to her class. For "a," she brought in an artist. For "b" she asked a beekeeper. She had a veterinarian for "v,'' a dairy farmer for "d" and a mailman for "m.''
"I began to notice so many people in our community had ties to agribusiness,'' she said.
She began to emphasize the importance of agriculture, the state's oldest and largest industry. (One in seven Georgians work in either agriculture, forestry or related fields.)
She worked together with the Crawford County Farm Bureau to help develop a curriculum that has become a model program. Her students have taken field trips to an organic farm, the agricultural exhibits at the Georgia National Fair and The Rock Ranch, a 1,250-acre cattle ranch in Upson County.
She started a greenhouse and garden, where the children have planted and harvested "crops.'' She has had them sample the bounty of the earth, from asparagus to kale to avocados. She has organized a summer agriculture camp she calls Seed Graves, a play on her last name.
"I want them to understand food doesn't just come from the Piggly Wiggly,'' she said. "And agriculture is not just about food. It's about everything from our clothing to the gasoline we put in our cars.''
No, she doesn't milk cows before school every morning or drive a tractor to PTA meetings. She doesn't wear overalls on dress-down days.
But this former city girl doesn't mind getting dirt under her fingernails. Peaches, peanuts and watermelons can quickly become the topic of any conversation. It's all food for thought.
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