Califonia Bountiful

Pennie Segna

4th Grade Teacher
Gratton School, Denair
Stanislaus County

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

How and when did you first learn of Ag in the Classroom?
I first learned about AITC several years ago from friends of mine that are also teachers. They were so excited about using agricultural topics that are fun and interesting to the students, and could easily be integrated into other academic subject areas.

How long have you been teaching students and why did you choose to become an educator?
This is my third year as a full-time fourth grade teacher. Before receiving my credential, I was a resource paraprofessional for nine years. At the urging of family and friends, I decided to go back to school and earn my bachelor's degree and teaching credential.
I always felt that I could make a connection with children of any age, but realized that I really enjoyed working with elementary students. It's so exciting to watch a student reach that "magic moment" when they truly learn a concept or idea and the "light goes on." It is a very rewarding experience for me to help foster a child's eagerness and desire to learn.

What is your favorite AITC program/resource/event and why?
So many things could be considered my favorite; it is hard to pick just one. I love attending the AITC conferences. I have learned so many great ideas that I have incorporated into my classroom, and the speakers are fantastic. I use many of the AITC online resources, in addition to the handouts that I have received from the conferences, which have been helpful to my students participating in the Imagine this… Story Writing Contest. These resources really help me become a better facilitator to explain to my students what is happening in the news today as it relates to agriculture.

What is the most profound impact that agriculture education/awareness has had on you?
There have been so many! One example is observing my students become delighted when they watch their school garden grow or when they harvest the foods that they planted. We also take it one step further by explaining to the younger grades, or their parents, how these plants are growing. It's also fun to watch the picky eaters want to taste a vegetable that they grew. My students also get excited when they read or hear about agriculture in the news and want to share it with the class. This is especially rewarding because they have a deep enough understanding of the information to be able to explain it and realize how that can impact agriculture and their community.

Has agriculture continued to impact the way you educate students?
Agriculture impacts my teaching directly or indirectly every day. During what I call "Wacky Wednesday," I usually introduce a new or special variety of produce for my students to eat before going out to recess and explain how and where it is grown. We also have the opportunity to work and learn in our fantastic school garden or explore the many agriculture websites on "Fun Fridays." I love to bring in guest speakers to share information about their careers in different aspects of agriculture. I firmly believe that students are never too young to start thinking about their futures or careers. AITC helps my students explore career options in agriculture that they might not have realized existed.

Tell us about one person who has most influenced your own education and educational career.
My husband, Dave Segna, has been a great motivation. Watching him as a high school agriculture teacher has inspired me. His help in brainstorming new and fun ideas to integrate agriculture into the curriculum has been a great help to me. I can never thank him enough for the many successful ideas that have worked in my classroom. He also believed in me and encouraged me to continue my education to complete my goal to become an elementary teacher.

Tell us about a golden teaching moment.
A golden moment is when a student tells me they have tried at home what they learned in school and they were able to make it work or grow. It tells me that they like what they are learning and they want to take their education a step further. I never get tired of hearing about this from my students or parents. This is what makes teaching so rewarding for me.

Describe any agriculture-based projects you have been involved in lately.
I have been involved in the Imagine this... Story Writing Contest for three years. I have also been involved in organizing and developing our school garden, where we grow a variety of vegetables. After we harvest them, we make it a class project to prepare different foods in the school kitchen. The students do the majority of the preparation and cooking. The best part is that after we have finished, we get to eat what we have made. In the past, we have made cabbage salsa, potato salad, spaghetti sauce, sweet potato bread, harvest pumpkin soup, and lettuce wraps.
I keep agriculture fresh in the minds of my students every day as I encourage them to eat healthy snacks such as fruits and vegetables. They are allowed to eat only healthy snacks in my classroom, which helps keeps them focused on the subject matter before lunch.

Do you have any advice for other teachers for implementing agriculture into the classroom?
Find a minute in your day to take a "commercial break" to talk or show something to your students that they can relate to agriculture. It may be something as simple as helping them to learn that the foods they eat are grown in the soil, not just bought from the store. I think this helps them gain a deeper appreciation for agriculture.

Why do you believe it is important for our students to be agriculturally literate and aware in today's society?
It is truly amazing that a growing percentage of the general public thinks that milk comes from the store and not from cows. This next generation needs to know that vegetables and fruit can be easily grown right in their own backyard. Unfortunately, many adults today are influenced by groups and organizations that are not supportive of agriculture. The young people of today need to understand the importance of agriculture in their daily lives. When they become adults, they will hopefully have an appreciation for agriculture. Even if they do not pursue an agricultural career, they can still serve as an ambassador for agriculture by helping people in their community understand just how vital the agriculture industry is to our country.

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