This school year, 26 Georgia elementary schools became the first in Georgia and the nation to formally offer their students ag education. The goal of the three-year pilot program is to introduce the amazing world of agriculture to kindergarten through fifth-grade students.
“We are modeling the elementary ag education program after the three-component model that Georgia ag education follows in our middle and high school programs – classroom instruction, experiential learning and leadership development,” said Christa Steinkamp, Georgia Ag Education curriculum & technology director. She gave an update on the program at the Georgia Joint Agriculture Committee Chairmen Ag Issues Summit held Sept. 27 in Perry.
The elementary students are learning how farmers grow our food, fiber for our clothes and trees for our homes. They’ll also learn about agricultural career opportunities and gaining leadership skills.
In recent years, as school standards have become centered around science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), teachers have found that lesson plans with agriculture as a topic provide a natural avenue for teaching STEM skills. The lessons are easily paired with fun, hands-on activities that drive home the STEM facts students learn, such as the states of matter, graphing or math. In some schools, where arts are included (STEAM), students keep a journal to record what they observe as seeds they planted sprout or chicken eggs incubate, then hatch.
“Agriculture education has included STEM from the beginning with hands-on learning,” Steinkamp said. “Hands-on activities are what these elementary schools are most excited about.”
The elementary ag education pilot program was created in 2018 when the Georgia General Assembly passed Senate Bill 330, “The Georgia Agricultural Education Act.”
During the 2018-2019 school year, Steinkamp, with the direction of Billy Hughes, Georgia agricultural education program manager, and Dr. Barbara Wall, state director of Career, Technical and Agricultural Education, led a committee comprised of six teachers and 13 representatives of different facets of Georgia’s ag community to develop ag education curriculum standards for each grade from kindergarten through fifth grade. The State Board of Education approved the standards in June.
Steinkamp said the committee kept the standards broad so teachers can have flexibility to teach about agriculture in their local communities. The standards have been broken into four major areas: agricultural systems, foundations of agriculture, natural resource systems and leadership/career readiness.
Subtopics that fall under agricultural systems include ag mechanics, plant science, animal science and food science. The foundations of agriculture covers Georgia ag production/commodities, Georgia ag regions, weather data, and the impact of ag.
When teachers cover natural resource systems, they may discuss soil, forestry, composting, alternative energy, recycling, the environment, conservation and alternative ag. Standards for leadership/career readiness include soft skills like handshakes and making eye contact when speaking, careers, employability skills and exposure to leadership organizations like 4-H or FFA.
FFA membership won’t be available to the elementary students because it begins in sixth grade, but they may be introduced to the organization through visits from older FFA students.
Teachers pioneering these pilot programs are having to get creative to acquire classroom resources they need for their students, such as greenhouses, Steinkamp said.
“I encourage members of Georgia’s ag community who live or work in a county with one of these elementary ag education programs to reach out to the ag ed teachers and offer resources teachers can use in their classrooms to help their students connect with agriculture accurately,” Steinkamp said.
Counties with schools participating in the pilot program are: Appling, Banks, Barrow, Bibb, Brooks, Clayton, Colquitt, Decatur, Fulton, Grady, Harris, Irwin, Laurens, Lowndes, Montgomery, Morgan, Muscogee, Pickens, Pierce, Pike, Putnam, Walker and Wheeler. For a list of the schools in each county visit www.gfb.ag/gaagedpilotschools .
The Georgia Foundation for Agriculture is raising funds to support the schools in the pilot program. To make a donation, visit www.gfb.ag.GiveToGrow .