Califonia Bountiful

Sherri Downer

5th grade teacher, John C. Fremont Elementary, Glendale, Los Angeles County

This interview was originally published in the fall 2007 issue of California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom's newsletter, 'Cream of the Crop.'

Sherri Downer, 5th-grade teacher, John C. Fremont Elementary, Glendale, Los Angeles County

How long have you been teaching?
I will be starting my 9th year as a 5th-grade teacher.

Any exciting new plans for the upcoming school year?
Each new year is exciting. One thing I am looking forward to is receiving a $1,500 grant to improve our school garden, and including George Washington at the forefront of my lesson plans on agriculture.

How are you involved with Agriculture in the Classroom?
AITC first came to me 6 years ago in the form of the Imagine this... story writing contest. Two of my past students were selected as state winners! Since then, I have attended several AITC Conferences, which inspired me to create a school garden. Two years ago, another teacher and I got the garden started with the help of parent volunteers and students. Now, it’s growing wonderfully. I tell every teacher I know about AITC and all the enriching material available, and that it is FREE!

How do your students generally respond to your use of agriculture in the classroom?
My students love Ag in the Classroom because they are using practical applications by planting, weeding, and caring for vegetables, herbs, and flowers.

How did you spend your summer?
I attended a 2-day "We the People" teacher institute held at Loyola Marymount University studying the Constitution. I also participated in a 3-day Teaching American History Grant on the Civil War given by UCLA and Glendale USD. For relaxation, my husband and I biked, hiked, and kayaked around the San Juan Islands for a week.

We heard you’ve just returned from an intensive teaching seminar in Virginia. Can you tell us about it?
Yes, I was one of 20 teachers chosen from around the U.S. for the George Washington Teacher Institute. We lived on the grounds of Mt. Vernon and were involved in a weeklong, intensive study of George Washington. It was truly an honor to be involved in a program of this magnitude with top Washington scholars as our instructors.

Would you like to share anything you learned from this experience with your fellow teachers?
It seems that we often take for granted some of the most important foundations in our country, from farming, to our founders, to our own freedom. I came away with an in-depth understanding of the skilled military leadership our first president possessed, and learned of the many sacrifices he made, like his beloved family, home and farm in Mt. Vernon. His wisdom and restraint in leading an experimental government and in defining the role of the presidency is remarkable. I also learned that Washington was a farmer at heart. I will make sure my students understand his love of country, the land, and his personal sacrifice for us.

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