Sarah Howard, a second grade teacher at Newton Parrish Elementary School, is celebrating a state-level award for a school-wide initiative she began that was such an abstract idea, she isn’t really sure how it came to fruition.
“Several years ago I started noticing that my students really had no idea where their food came from. Many of them seriously thought that their food’s life began at the grocery store,” Howard said. “The longer I taught, I was able to see they were missing connections not just to how their food was made and produced, but to life cycles in general. Our kids were lacking experiences with growing things, animals and the need for conservation.”
So Howard decided to go big with her ideas for how to integrate agriculture into not only her classroom but the entire school. That was five years ago.
“I thought that an ‘Ag Day’ would be a way for them to experience some key pieces of farm life without having to go to a farm,” Howard said. “I called Mrs. Cecil [a fourth grade teacher at Newton Parrish] and we asked our principal if we could put one together. He was incredibly supportive and it has become an annual event.”
Because of her agricultural day initiative, Howard was nominated by Daviess County Kentucky Farm Bureau for the Excellence in Agriculture Literacy Award, an honor for teachers who integrate agriculture in all areas of the classroom. However, Howard said, it takes several staff members to coordinate the school-wide event, including Jen Cecil, Howard’s “right hand throughout the entire initiative.”
“This a huge award and honor through Kentucky Farm Bureau at the state level, and she will compete for the regional and national level now,” said Kentucky Farm Bureau Agent Alex Bryant.
Howard received a cash prize of $500, which she donated back to her school to fund agricultural and science initiatives for students. In June, Howard will attend the National Ag in the Classroom Conference in Little Rock, Ark. where she will represent Kentucky in the national competition.
“Who would have thought that a city school would be winning an ag literacy award?” Howard said. “I feel that this award is not just my achievement, but an achievement for the entire staff and all of our students.”
Howard says Newton Parrish’s ag day is now presented on a larger scale. Many community speakers volunteer and teach interactive lessons to grade levels, and Howard has invited people from the conservation field, farmers, specialty farmers, many business owners, a food industry specialist, an agronomist and more to attend the special day at Newton Parrish.
Howard is grateful for the support that the community has shown for this event and said that farmers have literally donated money out of their pockets to keep this event funded and people will volunteer their time, resources and expertise.
“Farm Bureau has supported us with money and helped connect us to people who could help,” Howard said. “Many of the local equipment dealerships bring equipment for our kids to see and climb into. The farm equipment itself is an event for our students.”
Howard has also coordinated with local farms to have a petting zoo from Equestrian Enterprises, farm animals, and Nature to Nurture Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, an organization in Owensboro that rehabilitates injured Kentucky wildlife.
“We even had a mobile dairy visit during out last ag day,” Howard said. “The students were able to see how a dairy cow is milked.”
There are also interactive STEM activities and Bryant volunteers by offering hayrides around the walking track for students.
“This event takes a host of volunteers, which have included FFA students from surrounding high schools, Farm Bureau members, parents and grandparents,” Howard said. “Our teachers also take time to incorporate special lessons throughout this week and in the following weeks.”
Howard said that what she thinks is most special about the agricultural events is that before this initiative, most students and staff had no connection to the agricultural community.
“Understanding where their food came from was a truly abstract concept for most of our students. I honestly believe we have been able to change that for our students,” Howard said. “They know that their food as well as many other by-products are coming from a farm. They know that they have a stake in the agriculture community even though they aren’t farmers.”
One of Howard’s agriculture day aspirations is that over time, the students will have enough of a background in agriculture that they will have the confidence to seek out future agricultural professions.
“I also hope that our students grow into thoughtful consumers who can make responsible choices for the ag industry,” Howard said. “Ag day is not just a day for our kids, it is an experience that they will make connection to for the rest of their lives.”