Califonia Bountiful

Ann Hennessey

9-10 Grade Special Education English Teacher
Franklin High School, Sacramento County

How and when did you first learn of Ag in the Classroom?
I first heard about Ag in the Classroom approximately 14 years ago. I had asked the University of California Cooperative Extension for help with a school garden. The person they sent out happened to have an office in the same building as the Riverside County Farm Bureau and she introduced me to Agriculture in the Classroom.

How long have you been teaching students and why did you choose to become an educator?
I started teaching in 1998. I was a newspaper reporter before that. I knew a school principal and asked if I could volunteer in his school. I was hooked. I still do some freelance writing on the side, but usually I spend my time teaching teenagers to write now.

What is your favorite AITC program/resource/event and why?
My favorite AITC resource has always been the annual conferences. I tell everyone they will never find a conference that is more fun. You learn so much, get so many ideas to bring back to the classroom, and meet so many interesting people. You don't even realize just how much you are learning.

What is the most profound impact that agriculture education/awareness has had on you?
The effect it has on student behavior. Research shows that interaction with the Earth, with plants, and with the outdoors has a huge effect on student behavior. That's part of the reason why recess is so important. I saw that firsthand when we started a school garden at a continuation school in Riverside County. Students with behavior problems calmed down in the garden. We didn't have vandalism because the students protected the garden.

Has agriculture continued to impact the way you educate students?
Yes, but not in the traditional sense. Because of what I have learned from Agriculture in the Classroom workshops, I include lots of activities and movement in my teaching. My English classes are much more interactive than they used to be.

Tell us about one person who has most influenced your own education and educational career.
One of my most influential mentors would be Walt Brubaker, a former principal of mine who has since retired. He trusted my instincts and let me try out almost any idea I brought to him. Instead of putting up road blocks, he removed obstacles for me.

Describe any agriculture-based projects you have been involved in lately.
Right now I am involved in a school-wide garden program that will bring students and teachers from various academics together on one project.

Do you have any advice for other teachers on implementing agriculture into the classroom?
Start small. It's easy to get overwhelmed, and who needs that? We have enough stress in our daily school lives as it is. This is supposed to be a fun project. Take a cue from big city apartment dwellers and plant where you find the room. I've seen gardens in containers on wheels that can be moved in and out of classrooms, and gardens in little pots on classroom shelves. Whenever someone says they want to help, include them. No matter who or what skills they have, find a place for them.

Why do you believe it is important for our students to be agriculturally literate and aware in today's society?
It's important because these are the people who are going to make future land use decisions. We want them to know the consequences of those decisions. How do you make good land use decisions without having an appreciation of what that land can produce? Today's students are largely focused on electronics: cell phones, musical devices that plug directly into their ears and computers. As cool as that technology is, it also creates a disconnect between the child and the world around him or her. Agriculture is so much more than knowing where your food comes from. It's knowing flood control and soil conditions and state and federal politics. You have to be connected to the world around you.

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