Califonia Bountiful

Sheila Amaral

3rd Grade Teacher
Gratton Elementary School
Stanislaus County

This interview was originally published on CFAITC's blog, "The Fencepost."

How and when did you first learn of Ag in the Classroom?
I first learned of Ag in the Classroom when my children were in elementary school. Nancy Harris used the materials at her famous Ag Day at Hughson Elementary School.

How long have you been teaching students and why did you choose to become an educator?
I actually received my first credential in agriculture in the early '80s out of Cal Poly. I then started my family and, with three young children and a husband that traveled, I stayed home. I started substitute teaching at the elementary school level. I was offered a job at Gratton Elementary School, so I went back to school to earn my multiple subject credential. After 15 years, I am still here. I love our small country school.

What is your favorite AITC program/resource/event and why?  
I love the conferences! I have shared with several educators how the California AITC conference is the best out there. I have used so many of the wonderful things I have learned at the conference in my classroom.

Having an Imagine this…Story Writing Contest state winner last year was an amazing experience. The awards ceremony, the book signings, California Ag Day, the local Farm Bureau recognition… just the whole thing was very, very exciting, for me as well as my student, Morgan Gravatt.

What is the most profound impact that agriculture education/awareness has had on you?  
I have always been involved in agriculture, so realizing that everyone does not have that background had a big effect on me. As I said, I work at a small country school, so most of the students have a tie to agriculture. The teachers from large, and even smaller cities definitely have their work cut out for them when it comes to agriculture education and teaching students where their food comes from.

Tell us about one person who has most influenced your own education and educational career.  
I think my agriculture teacher, Mr. Fisher, influenced me to become an agriculture teacher. Living in the country and being involved with 4-H and FFA deepened the influence agriculture had on my life.  All three of my children have gone on to graduate from college with a degree in different areas of agriculture.

Tell us about a golden teaching moment.  
For many years I put on an Ag Day here at Gratton School. It was so much fun seeing the look on the students' faces, or listening to comments from young students as they got that first, hands-on experience shearing a sheep, holding a chicken, or planting a seed. It's priceless. It is why I think that agriculture and farm days are such an important part of education.

Describe any agriculture-based projects you have been involved in lately.
I am the Gratton School garden coordinator. It has been a huge job the past couple of years as our garden was completely rebuilt when our school underwent some construction.  I am proud to say it is bigger and better. We have several garden plots, a beautiful gazebo with hand-painted tiles and a garden bench and table to remember one of the students that passed away, Ciara Chiesa, a past Imagine this… Story Writing Contest state winner. We are composting, vermicomposting, growing fall, winter, spring and summer crops. We have used it in so many different ways, and will continue to expand as we can. My hope is to add a solar waterfall and a California natives area soon.

Do you have any advice for other teachers on implementing agriculture into the classroom?
Just do it!

Why do you believe it is important for our students to be agriculturally literate and aware in today's society?  
If students have a positive awareness of where their food and fiber come from, and the role agriculture plays in their lives, they can share this knowledge with others. As the world changes, so will agriculture. Awareness of the daily challenges farmers face may impact each and every one of us some way. Inspiring an interest at a young age is important!

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