6th Grade Teacher
Jefferson Leadership Academies, Long Beach
Los Angeles County
This interview was originally published in the April 2011 issue of CFAITC's e-newsletter, "Cream of the Crop."
Why did you become an educator?
At a very young age, I discovered the freedom that education brings to people. I strongly believe that educators can play a vital role in students' lives. When I began teaching, I wanted to be somebody who would make a positive impact on students' learning, somebody who would facilitate learning experiences, awaken curiosity for the world we live in and, most importantly, someone who would show their students the vast opportunities they have to become productive citizens.
Tell us about one person who has most influenced your own education and educational career.
My mother, without the slightest doubt, has definitely been that person. To begin with, I probably wouldn't have had an education or a career without her. Both she and I grew up in a heavily patriarchal culture, but to make sure I had the chances that were denied to her, she did her best to financially support my educational and occupational goals. Her greatest contribution to my successes came through her emotional support. Along with a myriad of other things, she taught me through both words and actions that one can achieve the impossible with enough persistence and dedication. Decades have passed since then, but her teachings continue to give me the strength to pursue my aspirations and serve my students, family, and community.
Tell us about a golden teaching moment.
Once, when I was teaching the life cycle of plants in second grade, students were comparing the stages of the cycle. Since it was the time to harvest some of the lettuce we had grown for our salad party, students were allowed to pull out the more mature lettuce. As one of my students pulled his lettuce out, he expressed in a loud voice, "Aha! Now I know why the dirt is so smooth, all these terrific worms are helping us!" That comment was the perfect lead-in to our next lesson.
What is your favorite AITC program/resource/event and why?
The Resources for Every Season CD has been very helpful in providing ideas for planning exciting classroom activities, from the tips on vegetable gardening to the sections on food safety and healthy eating. This resource facilitates my planning and saves me valuable time, and I know I can count on the lessons being enjoyable and something that students can look forward to learning.
Why is it important to teach agriculture in your classroom?
It is important to teach agriculture in every grade level because it teaches students that holding a piece of fruit is not something that should be taken for granted. Rather, it involves an extensive, laborious process. Most importantly, in this year's history curriculum, agriculture is taught as one of the major concepts that supports the evolution, growth, and extension of ancient civilizations. When students experience the actual labor required in a field, the subsequent joy of harvesting, and the cohesion of teamwork, they become more sensitive about and respectful to fieldwork and the people who make their living from it. By teaching agriculture in the classroom, I am not only teaching history, science, math, and language arts, I am teaching my students a lifelong learning skill: to become productive citizens who are aware of the impact their actions have on the Earth, both in their immediate environment and in the big picture of their community. As far as academics go, students' test scores improve significantly when they are in topics related to agriculture. Students' understanding of agriculture in their personal lives increases when they study and grow edible plants. It reinforces the concept of healthy choices to maintain the body functions at their best.
What unique and innovative approaches have you taken to advance agriculture literacy in your classroom?
I have always looked for ways to instill agriculture literacy in students by integrating all curricular areas. For example, when we start clearing the land we're about to use for gardening, we study the surface and the type of soil. Students form teams in the classroom, which then do research on various relevant topics such as what the best way to prepare the land is, and which vegetables will fit best and grow depending on the season. Math is applied when creating the perimeter of our garden, depending on the model we've chosen. Science comes in with studying the life cycle of the plants, and healthy organisms (worms). Social studies is addressed by studying old and new techniques for planting, harvesting, and selling crops. Literacy is present in every task; students feel the importance of becoming a fluent reader and proficient writer when we reach out to community members to make them aware of our gardening efforts and resources they can supply us with. Students write letters requesting donations from our business partners, after which they read the responses and send thank you cards. Overall, for the majority of our population, who are English language learners, agriculture literacy is a meaningful way to learn about all curricular areas with an application in the real world. In the end, we spread out our joy by inviting other classes to join us for a healthy classroom party, where salads and fruits are the main dishes. Ultimately, my students become role models for our school and community through learning about healthy eating, persevering through hard work and becoming proficient readers and writers.