What happens when two very enthusiastic teachers meet at the California Agriculture in the Classroom Conference? For Julie Cates and Jami Beck, the possibilities may seem endless. However, the two Tulare County teachers say they are most “Ag-Excited” about their recent pen pal “Ag-Venture,” letters exchanged between their sixth- and second-grade students.
Last school year was Cates’ first year teaching. She teaches sixth grade at Linwood Elementary in Visalia, and she has already made quite an impression. Cates incorporates her passion for nutrition and agriculture into her classroom each week through engaging activities she shares on Twitter.
“I am in love with agriculture and nutrition education,” Cates said. “I enjoy sharing my passion with students and opening their minds to all agriculture has to offer. I also try to help other teachers learn how they too can make agriculture part of their classrooms.”
Last fall, Cates received a $500 Literacy for Life grant from the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom for her #FindYourFavoriteFridays project. She was named the organization’s 2015 Outstanding Educator of the Year for her commitment to agricultural education. This past September, she was invited to present a workshop at the foundation’s annual statewide conference.
Beck is a second-grade teacher at Three Rivers Elementary in Three Rivers, where she has been teaching for 12 years. A fellow Tulare County resident, Beck also recognized the importance of teaching students about agriculture. However, she said she found the science aspect daunting.
“I was always intimidated when it came to agriculture because I thought you needed to have a strong background in science,” Beck said. “The conference gave me the confidence, connections and resources I needed.”
Conference attendees could almost see the wheels turning in Beck’s mind as she listened to Cates speak. The idea of introducing students to California-grown fruits, vegetables and nuts through #TryItTuesdays and #FindYourFavoriteFridays was intriguing, and Cates made it sound practical. She explained how she used fresh produce to not only give students a taste of agriculture, but also to teach math concepts, like plotting ordered pairs with beets. She said bringing in local farmers as speakers and working with the school’s garden coordinator helped students make their own hands-on connections with agriculture.
“You can connect agriculture to everything,” Cates said. “We talk about it in History, Math, English Language Arts, Visual Arts and more. It’s fun to see students’ eyes light up as they become proud to live in the top agricultural production region in the world.”
Beck was inspired. She immediately returned to her classroom, and before the second-graders entered the room on Monday morning, she had created a new bulletin board display titled, “I’m Ag-Excited, are you?” On Tuesday, the second-graders experienced their first #TryItTuesdays tasting.
“You should have seen my young students’ faces when they saw the bulletin board. They can’t wait to learn about agriculture,” Beck said.
The students were not the only ones excited to learn more. Cates and Beck met up within three weeks after the conference to attend a seed propagation workshop. Before long, they had developed a new a project tying writing and agriculture together: a pen pal Ag-Venture.
“Dear 6th Grader,” one of Beck’s students wrote. “My name is Alice. I am in second grade. I love Try it Tuesday. My favorite thing so far was honeydew melon. What was your favorite thing to taste? What is your name? Do you like working in your school garden. Your friend, Alice.”
Just like that, new friendships have sprouted between the two teachers and their 40 students. Follow @cates_julie and @mrs_jbeck to keep up with their journey watching their seeds and students grow. For free teaching resources, grants and other agricultural education opportunities offered by the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom, visit LearnAboutAg.org.
You can also follow the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom on twitter at @LearnAboutAg.