Teachers encouraged to bring ag into the classroom

Southwest High School ag teacher Shanna Abatti-Fitzurka's students work on their soil lesson to share with sixth and seventh graders at Corfman Middle School in El Centro.

HOLTVILLE — The University of California Desert Research and Extension Center in Holtville is offering agricultural grants up to $300 again this year for local teachers that have a desire to bring ag into their classrooms.

Farm Smart Community Educator Stephanie Collins said the grant program started about two years ago, where grants were offered in the fall after the annual California Ag in the Classroom conference. In lieu of physical attendance due to COVID restrictions, the free event was offered virtually.

Guests viewed live ag tours, heard from various speakers, and viewed presentations from other teachers and how they've brought ag to their classrooms in the two-day conference Sept. 24 and 25.

The conference promoted the use of ag in the classroom and attendance is required to be considered for the grant.

“For me, it’s pride in seeing that the students believe so strongly about their agriculture education classes that they take. They were empowered  to take the money and develop something that would benefit others,” said Southwest High School ag teacher, Shanna Abatti-Fitzurka, of the agricultural grant her class received last year from the University of California Desert Research and Extension Center.

Farm Smart budgets $1,200-1,500 in grants for TK-12th grade teachers in any academic subject that choose to bring ag into the classroom. Those wishing to apply, must do so before Oct. 29.

Collins recalled some of last year’s recipients and how they utilized the grants — creating school gardens, purchasing gardening tools and raised garden beds, and implementing ag-related activities.

Abatti-Fitzurka’s class was awarded a $300 grant through the program last year. She teaches animal science, veterinarian science, and advanced agriscience to 9-12 graders.

She used the grant for an ag leadership program where students served the community and other students during a time when education was mostly virtual due to COVID-19. Abatti-Fitzurka said the students did not want to use the grant money for a program like a classroom garden because the benefits of the project would only be seen this year. Her students wanted to serve the community during a time that was physically, mentally, and educationally challenging.

The student-led project consisted of the development of an ag-related lesson plan, where the high schoolers provided supplies and materials to teachers at Corfman Middle School in El Centro. The teachers then distributed the materials to all seventh-grade classes and a few sixth-grade classes.

The high schoolers then developed a virtual soil lesson — where the younger students made edible dirt cups.

“So, they developed the lesson by going onto the ag in the classroom website and finding different curriculum and they practiced it, they learned it, they bought all the supplies, and then they designed it for sixth and seventh grade classrooms at Corfman Middle School,” she said.

Abatti-Fitzurka explained the uniqueness of the entire project from the students’ desire to serve the community, to the well-designed lesson, and to the passion she witnessed in each of her students. She said the desire to share ag education and help other students during a challenging time made her proud.

“Especially since they were in a situation where students were at home, they wanted to share agriculture and ag education with students who didn’t have the opportunity for in-person (classes) last year,” said Abatti-Fitzurka.

To be eligible for the grant, attendance to the virtual California Ag in the Classroom conference was required. After attending the conference, apply for the grant before Oct. 29, here.

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