AgriScience changing the way students think about food

In 16 classrooms throughout the district, students eagerly await the sounds of eggs hatching to have a better understanding of life cycles and where our food comes from. It’s part of the new AgriScience curriculum being incorporated in buildings throughout the district. Currently, 21 classrooms have hands-on AgriScience activities, ranging from indoor gardens to potato baskets to chick hatching.

“Students get very excited about the chicks,” says Cyndy Keeling, AgriScience coordinator for the district. “They learn the environment required to incubate and hatch an egg, and then they learn how to take care of a chick. Eventually, they’ll learn the full life cycle – embryos develop in an egg and become chicks, and chicks grow into chickens who become our food.” It’s this approach to AgriScience that takes students from raising chicks to recognizing, understanding, and respecting the importance of food sources.

Students are also learning about plants, as seen in Mrs. Sondra Flora’s first grade classroom at Mary Beck. “Today, they are learning about seeds – examining what seeds look like, feel like, sound like. They are making guesses on what will grow from their seeds.” The students will plant their seeds in a windowsill planter, learn the roles that sunlight and water play in their growth, and eventually see what grows from them. Students in her classroom will also tour a farm, to help them understand where milk comes from. Flora says these experiences are life changing for her students, many of whom simply believe food just comes from a store. “AgriScience also provides a background for rich and engaging lessons in reading, writing, math and science,” says Flora. “My students are highly engaged in the curriculum, which improves their abilities in all subject areas.” She says many of her students have never seen a farm, tractor, or garden. She believes it is important for them to know where food comes from and understand the importance of agriculture in our community.

“Growing food doesn’t require a field or a massive amount of land,” says Keeling. “We’re teaching our students they can do this at home – in their backyard or in their windowsill. Kids are taking ownership and seeing where their food comes from. They are seeing that healthy food is an option.”

Support of the program in our schools is largely thanks to the partnership Elkhart Community Schools has formed with Elkhart County Farm Bureau and under the guidance of Dwight Moudy. Dwight has helped establish the programs in the classrooms and provide materials for the classrooms, eager to see AgriScience in place at our schools. “Elkhart County is the second largest agricultural county in the state of Indiana. Supporting the largest district in the county enforces our mission of promoting agriculture through public education. When Elkhart Community Schools began the discussion of AgriScience in the classroom, we saw it as a great opportunity to partner and bring agricultural awareness to as many students as possible.”

But the AgriScience curriculum doesn’t stop at the classroom door – elementary students are engaging in field trips to farms, as well as places like Wellfield Botanic Gardens, Woodlawn Nature Center, and ECS’ ACCELL Farm, where the AgriScience curriculum is shown with hands-on application. This May, 80 first grade students from Mary Daly will conduct water testing at Cobus Creek, which runs through the ACCELL Farm property. Over 1,500 students will also tour the farm through Ag Day, learning about AgriScience careers, crops, and farm animals.

“In addition to the tours, we have a field at the farm that will be ready to plant,” says Keeling. “We’re planning on having first grade students plant pumpkins this spring, and then come back and harvest them in the fall as second graders.”

From classroom to farm to table, students at Elkhart Community Schools are learning science curriculum, but also the equally important lesson of where their food comes from and what it takes to grow it.