Califonia Bountiful

Mary Pat Jones

5th-8th grade teacher, Our Lady of the Assumption School, Sacramento County (retired)

This interview was originally published in the October 2010 issue of CFAITC's e-newsletter, "Cream of the Crop."

How long have you been teaching or working with students?
I was a full-time science teacher for grades fifth through eighth for 12 years. Prior to that I was a substitute teacher. I just retired from full-time teaching this past spring.

Why did you choose to become an educator?
It was a good fit for me. As a young teenager I always liked going to school and would think about going back as a teacher. When I got to UC Davis and learned about the agricultural education major, I found an area that could satisfy the idea of teaching, my interest in agriculture and would do well within a family lifestyle.

How do you integrate agriculture into the curriculum or activities you teach?
I frequently used the resources and lesson plans put out by CFAITC. There are many areas in the science curricula where agricultural-themed lessons can be appropriate and useful, while staying within the content standards. It's great to go beyond the textbook. In addition to curriculum, I often spoke of agriculture and personal experiences I had as a way to illustrate and reinforce lessons. Sometimes these anecdotes would surface as an extra credit question on a test!

Describe any innovative agriculture-based projects you have been involved in developing.
I was great at taking someone else's idea and adapting it for my classes. I tried to add cross-curricular elements to lessons. With a soil science unit I would do a section integrating an erosion lesson and lab activity for it, with history about the Dust Bowl. Sadly, this is a time in history that very few students have ever even heard of!

Give an example of how you use agriculture to teach in your classroom or in your program.
There were a lot of opportunities to use agriculture; one in particular was in seventh-grade life science. When studying genetics, one of the things I would have the students do in order to apply the genetic principles they were learning, was to design a new and/or better plant or domestic animal using those concepts. We would do exercises to predict the probability of certain crosses for the offspring of sheep and horses. When studying viruses, bacteria and fungi, we would see how these could affect crops such as potatoes, as a way to further illustrate the characteristics of these organisms.

Tell us about one person who has most influenced your own education and educational career.
Even though he died when I was young, I would say my father. He grew up on a cattle ranch and wheat farm in North Dakota. I loved going back there in the summer as a child, and all these years later still go back and have many ties there. I developed a love for, and understanding of, agriculture as a child, and chose my college and major in great part because of this.

Tell us about a golden teaching moment.
Every year I would have my fifth-graders enter the Imagine this... Story Writing Contest during our plant unit. In conjunction with this we would read and do the activities in What's Growin' On? It was so great when a student would come up and excitedly tell me "Wow, I never knew that!" or "That is so cool!" The students were often truly excited to get to work on the paper and learn something out of the box that they were normally in. The writing contest also gave me many golden moments because the students really liked finding a way to creatively use their new science and agriculture knowledge. Of course, the year I had a student win at the state and then the next year at the regional level was golden!

Another moment came from a parent. My students were mostly unfamiliar with anything but an urban environment. There was one year when a mother came up to me after school and told me how excited she was to have her children in my class. Her son had relayed some of the things I had talked to the class about. She was happy to have a teacher that "got it." I was happy to have a parent who "got it!" (She grew up on a ranch in Northern California that was still in her family.)

What is your favorite AITC program/resource/event and why?
In the classroom I have to say the Imagine this... contest in conjunction with What's Growin' On? The students and I had a lot of fun with this. They love being creative and competitive, and it was a different way to get them thinking about what we were studying and relate it to agriculture. For me, the annual conference was fun and inspiring. I especially enjoyed the field trips and showcasing of California agriculture. As previously mentioned, the resources and lesson plans by CFAITC were often just what I needed.

Why is it important for our students to be agriculturally literate and aware in today’s society?
It is amazing how much of our daily lives really are affected by agriculture. This goes beyond the basic food and fiber. So many issues that people need to understand in order to be responsible citizens and voters are tied up with agriculture, especially here in California. Every day we hear about environmental issues, water issues and land development issues, all related at least in part to agriculture. We know that what we eat has a great effect on our health and well-being—if you understand genetics and how it is used in the science of agriculture you can make informed choices. The economics of agriculture goes way beyond the farmer or rancher and has a huge impact on our local and state economy. Many jobs are directly and indirectly related to agriculture. It is easy for urban students to not understand what an impact agriculture has on their daily lives. It is important to give them the knowledge and resources to be able understand how relevant to them agriculture truly is.

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