Lee Ann Stangl
Founder/Principal, Keyes to Learning Charter School, Stanislaus County
How long have you been teaching or working with students?
I received my California teaching credential in 1973. Only recently have I worked full time, however. That makes a very long time—more than 30 years.
Why did you choose to become an educator?
I love school. Most of my relatives were either involved in agriculture or education.
How do you integrate agriculture into the curriculum or activities you teach?
Before there was Ag in the Classroom, gardening always seemed an obvious connection. Kids should learn from the most familiar and that would be just outside. Science was about growing vegetables and flowers or learning about earthworms. When Ag in the Classroom developed their lesson plans it was like finding a gold mine.
Describe any innovative agriculture-based projects you have been involved in developing.
Our charter school first partnered with the Santos' Ranch in Turlock to provide weekly "farm" experiences. Dr. Santos, a local veterinarian, built a classroom on his property and hoped to have students use it for science. Our students actually created the garden and tended the animals for a few years. Because our school is a home-school hybrid we can have school in a variety of locations. Some instruction takes place at home and some in the classroom.
The most innovative project was attempting to organize an entire charter school around local agriculture and environment. Our farm classes were so popular that I decided to work with the director of a local foster home for boys to create a residential agricultural charter school. The foster home facility closed down in the middle of the process and we never quite recovered, although it continued in various forms and locations for three years. The students and parents who participated loved it and we were all sorry to have to close. Basically, the students learned everything they could about the Central Valley, participated in 4-H and now have an excellent foundation in the life sciences and a greater appreciation of all things ag and Californian.
Give an example of how you use agriculture to teach in your classroom or in your program.
I think the greatest way to have students learn is from the experts. There are so many local resources available who like to visit and share with students that you could never run out of people and ideas. We learned about mules from a driver, trapping and removing animals safely from Federal Wildlife officers, mosquitoes from the abatement office, river restoration from the Tuolumne River Trust, raising pigs from a 4-H expert, and milking cows from dairymen. The hardest part is calling and scheduling, but after that we invited the parents and everyone learned together. People are happy and eager to share their knowledge.
Tell us about one person who has most influenced your own education and educational career.
I can't say it is one person. Rather the focus of my entire family has always been on exploring, appreciating and working in the outdoors. From fly-fishing with my grandfather on the Madison River, plucking chickens for my grandmother in Holtville, hiking with my siblings, attending summer camp every summer, picking lemons in Ventura in high school or gleaning walnuts for my mom's cookies, our family was never far from the country or its food sources. Appreciation means understanding and when you see those who neither appreciate nor understand, you want to teach them. At least I do.
Tell us about a golden teaching moment.
We were on a field trip to a local state park. As the ranger was walking and talking along a path of "wilderness" I glanced to the side and noticed there was a barbed wire fence. On the other side of the fence was a beautiful and immaculately groomed walnut orchard. It occurred to me that the endangered brush rabbit and the kangaroo rat might have a problem knowing which side of the fence they should stay on. This led to a lively discussion with the students and the ranger. This is the kind of problem that will have to be addressed for a long time and is exactly why it is important for young people to develop an understanding of environmental and agricultural issues.
What is your favorite AITC program/resource/event and why?
I love to go to the conferences. Of all the conferences I attend it is always the best planned, the most fun and the classiest.
Why is it important for our students to be agriculturally literate and aware in today’s society?
The basics aren't just reading, writing and arithmetic. They are also food, clothing and shelter. If we don't teach all the basics we have an imbalance and a citizenry that cannot make intelligent, informed decisions.