Hampton High School was host to the most recent Agriculture in the Classroom program of the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation (NFBF)’s Connecting Chapters arrangement. Students from five FFA chapters met in Hampton, Nebraska, to learn how to speak up for agriculture among their peers and in their respective elementary schools.

“Through Connecting Chapters, FFA members gain practice with sharing agriculture in a meaningful way,” said Courtney Schaardt, NFBF director of outreach education and program leader. “This program builds confident agricultural advocates and community leaders.”

The recent meeting involved students from Hampton, Heartland, Doniphan-Trumbull, High Plains and Adams Central high schools.

Schaardt presented the FFA members with grade-specific modules and material to use for their lessons. A new classroom visit program has lessons for each elementary grade level that align to science, social studies and language arts material. Along with the lessons, students learn about the industry that drives the rural economy around them.

“Through these events we foster awareness, knowledge and appreciation of agriculture – in their communities,” said Megahn Schafer, executive director of the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation.

At the beginning of the lesson, Schaardt stood at the edge of the concave side of the crescent of five tables holding a beach ball with numbers written on its sections. Each group around the semi-circle was asked what numbers they could see. The 22 students were limited to the side of the ball facing their table.

This, Schaardt said, was an example of how different groups of people perceived agriculture. Just as the students could see only the numbers facing their table, people are limited in their understanding of agriculture by the constraints of their personal point of view.

Next, the group talked about developing a clear message and methods to reach the target audience. In this case, it is focused on third through fifth grade students.

“We need to communicate how ag affects individuals in their daily life,” Schaardt said. “We will learn how to break down the key message into steps.”

In one case, the FFA members will read and then donate a book to the elementary school in their district. The book is “Popcorn Country: The Story of America’s Favorite Snack” by Cris Peterson. They also get a cob of popcorn that can be popped in a microwave as a hands-on activity for the lesson.

Such interactive lessons are one way to teach young people how agriculture touches their lives. The students learned two such activities. One activity centers on a sphere of playdough and another involves a glove and various crop seeds.

Schaardt has used the same activities to engage kids from kindergarten age through college. They found it engaging at each level. Not everyone is from an agriculture background, she said.

The state’s Ag in the Classroom program has been around since 1984, and the Farm Bureau has long had a part in running it. The Connecting Chapters program began in 2017 with support from a national Ag in the Classroom grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Schaardt came up with the Connecting Chapters idea after meeting with the Department of Education, which was looking for a way to bring agricultural literacy to FFA chapters and agricultural education programs.

This fall, Connecting Chapters will reach 72 FFA participants. Since the beginning of the school year, Farm Bureau staff have taught in 21 classrooms, reaching 453 students, said Erin Stieren, Farm Bureau marketing director.

This marks the third year Hampton has been involved in the Connecting Chapters program. FFA advisor Joel Miller said he enjoys being the host school for the activity. His FFA chapter has 42 members that comprises about two-thirds of the school, he said.

Hampton FFA President Christian Eckhardt said he is glad to have the opportunity to participate in Ag in the Classroom. This is the senior’s second year in the program. Last year, he used the playdough lesson and read “Tops & Bottoms” by Janet Stevens to their entire elementary school.

“I found it fun and educational,” Eckhardt said. “We are making it a goal to do the entire elementary again.”

Hampton FFA treasurer Lydia Dose is a fourth generation cattle rancher whose family has a large Angus beef operation. She said last year’s Ag in the Classroom session went smoothly for their chapter.

“It’s a great way to get younger students interested in ag and education,” Dose said. “This time, I plan on looking through the book for other ways to engage younger students – something that is more interactive.”

Dave Johnson is in his fifth year as Doniphan-Trumbull’s FFA advisor and this is his second year participating in the Connecting Chapters programs. His chapter has 28 members, and he hopes this year his students will have worked out the kinks.

“Last year it was difficult to mesh schedules with elementary teachers,” he said. “We were able to do farm safety for elementary and in the spring we did a petting zoo as part of our (lesson).”

Brandon Jacobitz was the youngest of the quintet of advisors at the recent training session. He has been teaching at Adams Central in Hastings for six years and is the advisor to 73 FFA members. He said while his chapter is very big, it is also very energetic.

“We are looking forward to doing this project,” Jacobitz said. “Elementary was consolidated last year so it was easier to share with all of the students.”

Jacobitz attributes some of the enthusiasm his chapter demonstrates toward completing projects to a high number of young women being involved. He has a 55% female participation in his FFA chapter. At this event, it was 90% female. An interesting observation, since 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of FFA allowing women full membership.

“Each year we reach more than 25,000 students, 600 teachers and 3,500 volunteers through our Ag Pen Pal Program, AgMag, Classroom Visits, Virtual Field Trips, Camps and Clubs and Teacher Workshops,” Schaardt said.

Next summer the Farm Bureau will be leading a teacher workshop to help teachers write new lessons and activities for Nebraska Ag in the Classroom that align to the new science standards.

For more information visit nefbfoundation.org/educators/get-involved/nebraska-ag-in-the-classroom.

Jon Burleson can be reached at jon.burleson@lee.net.

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