By Jennifer Whitlock
This spring, young students across Texas visited farms and ranches from their classrooms and homes, thanks to a new Texas Farm Bureau (TFB) program.
Through Farm From School, students in kindergarten through second grade met virtually with farmers and ranchers once a month using video conferencing technology.
The goal of the program was to provide students more engaging experiences while learning about agriculture and how it relates to content learned in the classroom, according to Jordan Walker, TFB associate director of Educational Outreach, Organization division.
“Many kids were still attending school virtually this spring when we rolled out Farm From School,” she said. “This really brought the farm to the students wherever they were, whether that was in a classroom, on a computer or tablet at home. We heard from many teachers that it was a nice way to bring in an outside speaker in a year when finding avenues to be more interactive was very challenging.”
Teachers from each of TFB’s 13 districts participated in Farm From School this spring. More than 1,065 students from home school, virtual and classroom settings connected with farmers and ranchers each month through the program.
During the monthly video meetings, the students got to know each farmer or rancher, learned about their operations and asked lots of questions along the way.
Jayne Doxsey, a retired schoolteacher, taught her three grandchildren at home this year. The children—who were in kindergarten, first and third grade—learned virtually through their school district part of the day, then participated in homeschool activities with Doxsey for the remainder of the school day.
The children, who live in TFB’s District 8, connected with Coryell County Farm Bureau members Cody and Erika Archie, who raise Dorper sheep and Angora goats and cattle.
“They have not been to a farm or ranch, so they learned a lot from Cody and Erika while they were shearing a goat in one of their videos,” Doxsey said. “Afterward, we did some research into the animals and talked about how their hair can be used and what role they play on the farm. It’s been such an amazing experience for them.”
Students from Mason Elementary in Cedar Park, who were learning virtually this semester, also met with the Archies.
“The kids love seeing what’s happening on their operation. They’ve asked the farmers about manure, the sheep dogs, tools and jobs on the farm, spraying cattle for flies, what skills are needed to care for the animals, all kinds of questions,” first-grade teacher Geeta Erickson said. “The kids had a realistic view because they aren’t just reading the information from a book. Their questions were really appropriate because they saw these things first-hand.”
In East Texas, District 11 students talked to Walker County Farm Bureau member Damon Burris, a forester for Steely Lumber Co. in Huntsville.
He took students from Forest Ridge Elementary in College Station on a journey from seedling to tree to lumber, showing the students the life cycle involved in the Texas forestry sector. And their response was enthusiastic.
“They actually wanted to leave recess early so they could get on the call from the very beginning. That’s how I know they really love it, and they’ve had relevant questions. One of my students asked how many jobs Damon’s business provides the area,” Hillarie Rollins, whose class was participating through in-person learning, said. “All of his lessons have really targeted something we’ve learned in class, so we make those connections with what we’re learning. Things like plant life cycles and natural resources are so much clearer to them because they can see it happening in real time.”
After being such a success, Farm From School will be back in the fall with a slight change.
“In the fall, one farmer a month will visit with students from across the entire state,” Walker said. “Even if students are back in the classroom and going on field trips again, many of them will not have the opportunity to visit a farm in person. And this way, students might experience parts of Texas agriculture they’ve never seen before by visiting with farmers and ranchers from different parts of the state. This program can give students experiences they would not otherwise have.”
K-3 teachers can sign up to participate in the program. Click here to sign up by Sept. 3.