Califonia Bountiful

Sue Wallace

Functional Life Skills Teacher
Glacier Point Middle School, Fresno County

This interview was originally published in the February 2012 issue of CFAITC's e-newsletter, "Cream of the Crop."

How and when did you first learn of Ag in the Classroom?
I was introduced to Ag in the Classroom by a fellow teacher in the Owens Valley in 1997. She had organized a Farm Day at her elementary school in Benton and invited my class to attend. My middle school special day class had a poultry project so my students presented activities about chickens to the elementary students.

How long have you been teaching students and why did you choose to become an educator?
This is my 22nd year of teaching. I have taught special education my whole career. I knew from the time I was a little girl that I wanted to be a teacher. My favorite show was Romper Room and I admired most of the teachers who taught me from elementary through high school. Some of them made a significant difference in the course of my life so I am paying their inspiration forward to my students.

What is your favorite AITC program, resource or event and why?
Wow, I don't think I can name only one AITC program, resource or event that is my favorite! The two programs that made a lasting impression on me was being a member of the Summer Ag Institute (class 15) and being part of the consortium of teachers who aligned lesson plans with the California State Standards. The Summer Ag Institute inspired me to make agriculture the base of all of my lesson plans. Aligning the agriculture lessons with the standards gave credibility to my administrators for using agriculture lessons in my classroom. My students need to know where their food comes from because they will be the decision makers of the future concerning land use and I want to ensure that California remains the bread basket of the world. Many of my eighth grade and high school students have chosen careers in agriculture because we explored the vast number of possible careers in the industry that meet with their interests.

What is the most profound impact that agriculture education/awareness has had on you?
I watched Orange County go from a quiet, small town and agricultural area to a concrete-covered metropolis in a very short period of my life. I played with friends in farmers' fields after harvest and the planting of certain crops meant a changing of the seasons every year. Fog and the fragrant smell of freshly harvested strawberries meant spring was just around the corner. Every time a new housing tract was built in a former cabbage field, my heart would break. A simpler way of life was being taken over by urban sprawl. I began to wonder where our food was going to come from. Are we going to be dependent on other countries for our food just as we had become for oil? I am happy to know that some other people, my age, have continued or begun farming in parts of Orange County. We need to be able to feed ourselves no matter what type of fuel we use in our vehicles!

Has agriculture continued to impact the way you educate students?
Since 1997, I have included agriculture in all of my lessons. My classroom is self-contained so I teach all four core subjects. It is so easy to incorporate agriculture into my lessons including career exploration as part of transition IEPs. I tell my farm stories to my students and we plan healthy meals to cook. The segment of the special education population I teach has the greatest propensity to become obese as adults so it is important to me to teach them how to make healthy food choices.

Tell us about one person who has most influenced your own education and educational career.
The person who most influenced my education and career was the superintendent who hired me for my first teaching position, Dr. Richard Anthony. He had faith in me as a person and a teacher from the beginning of my career. He encouraged me and guided me to earn a learning handicapped credential and resource specialist certificate. He was instrumental in helping me start a poultry project with my students. I will be forever grateful to him for having so much faith in my potential as a teacher. I pass his encouragement and enthusiasm on to my students to help them be successful in reaching their goals in education and life.

Tell us about a golden teaching moment.
I started an agriculture elective at Home Street Middle School in Bishop. The culminating project for the semester was a career research project. My students chose a commodity and researched possible career positions in the field they chose. Next, they wrote letters to agriculture businesses for job requirements necessary for their chosen career. I'll never forget how excited they were when they received letters back from the businesses. Each letter was a personal letter to each student and they were so impressed that a business owner would take the time to write back to them! Several of my students have earned a variety of degrees and are now working in agriculture-related jobs. One student earned a degree in turf management and is enjoying free rounds of golf as the course turf manager at the golf course!

Describe any agriculture-based projects you have been involved in lately.
As I've stated, I began a poultry project with my students from scratch. Pardon the pun! Our school board in Bishop gave us some seed money and the CEO of our local fairgrounds gave us a place to build our chicken coop. My students, their parents, and some community supporters helped us build our first coop. It was an 8'x12' coop with a 6'x20' run so our chickens could forage for bugs and greens. My students raised the chickens from day-olds, advertised for egg sales, and did the bookkeeping for our business. The proceeds paid for our science camp trip each year.

I am currently at a brand new middle school in Central Unified district in Fresno and I have applied for a garden grant to start a school garden. I will be collaborating with one of our seventh grade science teachers and the culinary arts teacher to make the garden happen. My class has started growing some herbs indoors and we plan to make our own dry rubs to sell to help support our garden. We plan to have a farmers market once a week once our crops are ready to harvest.

Do you have any advice for other teachers on implementing agriculture into the classroom?
Agriculture-based lessons are so easy to incorporate into any class. History was dramatically changed when we started growing our food instead of roaming around following the herds of prey animals. Measurements are still made in tons, pounds, ounces, bushels, baskets, and acres. Science has an infinite amount of applications for agriculture lessons. English literature is rife with references to farming in all levels of society. It is simply a matter of looking for opportunities to include agriculture. It does require teachers to think outside the box of lessons that come with the textbooks but it doesn't require any more work. Agriculture keeps our student tied to their present, past and future. I encourage my colleagues to go to the AITC conference to learn how easy it is to incorporate agriculture into their lessons.

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