Califonia Bountiful

Lance Omeje

4th Grade Teacher
Yokomi Elementary School
Fresno, CA

This interview was originally published in the July 2011 issue of CFAITC's e-newsletter, "Cream of the Crop."

How did you first learn about Ag in the Classroom?
I first learned about Ag in the Classroom when I attended the Ag Symposium sponsored by the Fresno County Farm Bureau, during the summer of 1996.

Tell us about the "light bulb" moment when you knew that agriculture should be an integral part of educating our students.
I was born and raised on a farm and, naturally, had a good understanding about where food comes from. But when I asked my 36 students where their food comes from, I was flabbergasted by their responses, which included "fast food restaurants." On another occasion, my colleague wandered into the school garden where I was hard at work, and when she saw an Italian yellow squash, she proclaimed, "So, that is how the bananas grow!" That marked the beginning of my quest to integrate agriculture into the classroom.

What impact has agriculture education/awareness had on you?
I am proud of how I have impacted many youngsters and adults by incorporating agriculture in the classroom. I help students understand the cause and effect and interrelationship among humans and their environment and have promoted clear awareness how and where food comes from. I also help promote healthy eating habits and expose the limitless job opportunities that are associated with agriculture. Finally, I cannot express enough in words how much I appreciate the recognitions by CFAITC, the numerous opportunities to travel around the country, and to network nationally and internationally with other ag educators.

How has agriculture continued to impact the way you educate students?
Although I don't have a garden, agriculture is for life. At my current school, I am the only physical, earth and environmental science teacher. The environmental science lessons are focused on agricultural concepts, featuring plants, nutrition, and water conservation. I am involved with nutrition education, collaborating with the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) in Fresno. I derive some of my lessons from TWIGS (Teams with Intergenerational Support, Focus on Gardening and Nutrition). And, I organize an annual field trip, "The Garden of the Sun," sponsored by UCCE and facilitated by the Master Gardeners of Fresno County. Whenever I attend the National AITC Conference, I bring back lots of information that I share with participating colleagues.

Tell us about a golden teaching moment.
Tne particular student that I believe benefits from agriculture education emigrated from Laos. She was my student for two years, for fourth and fifth grade. During the first quarter of school, she was bashful and could hardly speak English, and was identified as "PP," meaning pre-production. Working in the garden provided many opportunities to interact with her fellow classmates. One day, she came with two other girls to my desk. She was holding a tomato plant in a brown plastic container. At first she bashfully made an eye contact with me, then smiled and murmured something in her language to her friends. "Mr. O," she said, "Is it true that if you read to the plants, they will grow better?" "Yes!" I responded. After that, she kept the plant on her desk and read to it daily. At first she read softly, but when the plant grew bigger she started to read louder and louder. After a month, we transplanted it in her favorite part of the school garden, where she continued to read aloud until harvest time. It was a sweet cherry tomato plant. By reading to the plant, she gained confidence in her reading and became popular with her peers—she became a chatterbox! A year later she reassessed as "EP," or early-production, and by the time she completed fifth grade, she classified as "AV," or advanced, meaning she spoke English fluently.

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