WHAT’S SO GREAT ABOUT ILLINOIS AG EDUCATION?

The first blog post celebrating American Education Week talked about Agriculture Education. Illinois has a rich history with our Agriculture Ed Programs, FFA and SAE courses. In addition to other state Ag Education Programs that look to the ‘well oiled machine’ that Illinois has with our Agriculture Ed Program, other Career and Technical Education programs across the nation look to the model that Illinois has built. Career and Technical Education (CTE) may be a new term to you—but these programs exist in nearly every district in the state at the secondary level. You might know them best as former ‘Vocational Education’ programs of Business, Marketing and Computer Education, Family and Consumer Science, Health Science Technology and Technical and Engineering Education. Agriculture classes, Agriculture Education Teacher Training, and expectations in the work force have come a long way and the classes you might have know as Business, Home Economics, and Shop have also come a long way.

One advantage we have in Agriculture is the Agriculture Literacy effort across the state. Illinois houses our Agriculture Literacy within the Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom program. This program combines the efforts of Illinois Farm Bureau, UI Extension, Soil and Water Conservation Districts and commodity groups at the state and local level to deliver high quality agriculture messages to teachers and students outside the traditional High School Agriculture program.
education agriculture classroomIllinois Agriculture in the Classroom (IAITC) can trace its roots to the early 1920’s as the IAA Record has photos and stories of local farmers bringing examples of crops and animals into schools across the state. In 1981, as John Block headed to Washington, he brought the concept of teaching students and teachers about their food, fiber and fuel system to the USDA. IAITC has undergone many changes in the past three decades, most importantly the emphasis of sharing the story of farmers and their work remains in tact.

IAITC is recognized as one of the strongest program in the nations, due in large part to the outstanding support of farmers across the state. Our decentralized distribution system of materials, classroom presentations and teacher training is one of a kind in the US. Each county in Illinois has a county contact, either a paid Agriculture Literacy coordinator or key volunteers that implement the program at the local level. During the 2009-2010 school year 2,899 volunteers assisted in local efforts. Our program is valued in urban, suburban and rural areas. Lack of understanding of the food, fiber and fuel chain exists across the state!

In the last school year, 30,454 teachers utilized IAITC materials in 2,392 attendance centers across the state. 486,610 students were reached with an AITC in classroom presentations. An additional 1,627 Pre-Service Teachers (University students ready to student teach) were presented with materials and training about how to incorporate agriculture into their existing classroom curriculum.
As local school districts become more focused on the ISAT/PSAE high stakes test, at IAITC we’ve worked to find ways to further incorporate agriculture into math, science, social studies and language arts. Teachers are very open to using IAITC materials, especially after they see the size and scope of agriculture. Many only associate agriculture with actual production. When we are able to show processing, research, sales, marketing among other career options teachers begin to see how agriculture has a direct impact on them as well as their students.
The cornerstone of Illinois AITC is our teacher training. Providing teachers with high quality, standards based, scientifically sound agriculture information that can be easily integrated by teacher into existing classroom curriculum is our goal at the state and local level. Although the program has had a mainstay in the elementary classrooms, our program is working to expand to the middle school and high school levels.
How can you get involved? There are multiple volunteer opportunities at the local level. Log on to our website http://www.agintheclassroom.org/ and click on contact your county to see where you could assist. At the state level, consider our ‘Adopt a Classroom’ program. For over 25 years, we’ve paired ‘farm writers’ with classrooms in Chicago in a pen pal program. In this program you can write to a classroom and share what you do on your farm, and share what goes on in Illinois Agriculture.
How are things changing? As teachers gain access to more technology, our AITC program has branched out to include SMART Board related materials, and we’ll be featuring new interactive Ag Mags with video and hot links on our website during the coming school year.
At Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom we are working to spread an accurate message about what it means to be an ‘Illinois Farmer’. Training teachers and working with students can help promote a positive dialogue about agriculture in classrooms and at home.
If you have additional questions, please contact me at kdaugherty@ilfb.org or check out our website!

Kevin Daugherty
Illinois Ag in the Classroom Education Director
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