Califonia Bountiful

Sue Squires

7th and 8th Grade Teacher
Los Olivos Elementary
Santa Barbara County

How and when did you first learn of Ag in the Classroom?
About five or six years ago I was introduced to AITC by a colleague, but became more involved when I was nominated for a Literacy for Life Award. I presented at the conference and became even more excited about the enriching opportunities that AITC provides.

How long have you taught students and why did you choose to become an educator?
I fell into teaching by accident. I was working for the County of Santa Barbara's Agricultural Commissioner's Office and the department was going through severe budget cuts. I decided to get my credential in case my position was cut. Once I started student teaching, I enjoyed teaching so much that I switched careers. I have been teaching for 16 years and I have never looked back.

What is your favorite AITC program/resource/event and why?
AITC conferences are fun, meaningful, and well-planned events. The field trips, presentations, and hands-on materials get me excited about returning to my classroom with all of the valuable knowledge and activities I was able to learn in just a few days. The collaboration and connection with other teachers from around the state is also a plus.

What is the most profound impact that agriculture education/awareness has had on you and how did that impact the way you educated students?
Growing up I listened to stories about my grandfather's orange groves and smudge pots, and in the summer enjoyed traveling to my cousin's cattle ranch. I actually grew up in a city, however, and rode my horse on the riverbed because there was little open land left. Watching the transformation of farmland to city has enabled me to understand how important it is for students to understand all aspects of agriculture.

Tell us about one person who has most influenced your own education and educational career.
I can't name one specific teacher that has influenced my teaching because my curriculum and teaching style have evolved from several teachers that have touched my life as a student and teacher. Majoring in animal science at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and my previous careers as a zookeeper and plant quarantine inspector made it easy for me to teach science/agriculture and add some real-life experiences to my classroom. I do have to say that my mother realized early on that teaching would be my profession and gently nudged me in that direction.

Tell us about a golden teaching moment.
Teaching both of my own kids was a golden teaching moment for me. I became even more aware of how important it is for teachers to identify and address the different learning styles in the classroom. This awareness encouraged me to seek and develop more effective curriculum and study programs for my students. Agriculture is the perfect vehicle for an evolving learning environment.

Describe any agriculture-based projects you have been involved in lately.
I continue to implement my oak project that exposes students to our school oak community. This unit is technology-based and enables students to take on the role of scientist by collecting and analyzing data each month about the inhabitants and characteristics of an oak community, as well as specific oak insects. This year I will be teaching an agriculture elective and hope to incorporate some plant nursery studies and school garden concepts into this class.

Do you have any advice for other teachers on implementing agriculture into the classroom?
Choose topics that relate to your hometown landscape and that are interesting to you as a teacher. For instance, our valley is made up of vineyards, horse ranches and organic farms, so I try to use these topics so that I can support the classroom activities with field trips and hands-on activities. Agriculture is so broad and incorporates so many topics that it makes it easy to develop meaningful lessons.

Why do you believe it is important for our students to be agriculturally literate and aware in today's society?
I have to say that as a student I thought agriculture was all about livestock. As a teacher I make it a point to pick agricultural topics that are different, such as plant nurseries and quarantine insects. Both topics allow me to show my students how they affect landscaping around their house and the food on their table. It is important to make students aware that agriculture incorporates all areas of our lives. Technology opens a whole new level of learning that can expose students to a variety of agricultural topics.

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