|Lawrence County’s Speake School|
Using 4-H JMG Program to Teach Importance of Agriculture and Farming
Children attending Speake Elementary in rural Lawrence County are setting the bar higher for youth around the state by learning first-hand about important lessons about farming and agriculture.
Children are learning about the lifecycle of animals and plants through the innovative Junior Master Gardener program taught by engaged and excited teachers.
The changes are making a difference not only in the children’s lives but also in the community because of its strong farming heritage.
"Agricultural activities have almost become a novel concept here — even in this farming community," she said. "The children are learning about the importance of farming, and the role and value of their family member or someone they know who is a farmer."
This past year, kindergarten children watched eggs hatch to tiny chicks, first and second graders incubated the chicks and older children fed and cared for them in chicken houses so they could lay more eggs.
The children took apple seeds out of apples, dried the seed and watched the seeds sprout. They planted, cared for and harvested a variety of vegetables later used in the school cafeteria and created a worm farm to make compost for their vegetables.
County and school administrators, teachers and parent volunteers joined together because they decided to educate children a little differently, said principal Tina Blankenship. While the core educational mission is the same, the methods of teaching curriculum refocused to offer a strong hands-on component.
That is where JMG, a national educational program designed to interest youth in learning about gardening education, has been vital. State JMG coordinator Luci Guthrie Davis trained Blankenship and other teachers, and the two even attended a national JMG conference in Dallas to learn how to teach JMG programming.
"We gathered ideas on how to begin a program in the school," Blankenship said. "It was great because the conference was visually reinforced with tours of schools."
Blankenship can see a difference the program is making in the children.
"The JMG program and curriculum has made education accessible to all," she said. "It’s not just for the stronger students in the classroom. They all get it because they can see it, touch it and learn about it.
"Children come to school excited – they are excited about planting day, about chicken coop day and many other activities."
Ron Beavers said it’s not been just the children who have learned new things. The 39-year teaching legend said he’s been reinvigorated by the JMG program.
"It has really been a lot of fun because it’s taken me back to some of my roots," Beavers explained. "My mom used to do some of these similar activities with us as kids, and now the parents want to get involved and know more."
Beavers picked Queen Anne’s lace wildflowers and his third and fifth graders have dyed them using colored water to show a plant’s vascular system. They have also incubated eggs, learned about the process of germinating plants, and picked and dried leaves to make masks for Halloween.
"One of the reasons I like JMG is it gets parents involved," Beavers said. "They ask questions and want to do more because they see how much their child is learning."
Second grade teacher Cynthia Early’s students learned about George Washington Carver and peanut farming, studied dairy farming and visited the mobile dairy exhibit, and learned about honey making by watching a beekeeper harvest honey and tasting it.
The students of Eddie Coker, the sixth and eighth grade agriculture educator, made bird feeders to attract birds to the school so other students could learn about varieties of birds, and planted, cared for and harvested the school’s garden. He and the students planted potatoes, pumpkins, turnips, lettuce, mustard greens, onions, corn, broccoli and tomatoes, just to name of few.
"The kids loved watching the plants grow from seeds, taking care of the garden and harvesting it," he said. "They learned a lot that will help them as they grow up."
Janet L. McCoy is a Development Program Coordinator III, State Activities and Events Coordinator for Alabama 4-H & Youth Development in Auburn.