Agriculture in the classroom helps local teachers

Published 12:00 pm Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Every year, an estimated 500,000 Virginia schoolchildren can better understand the value of agriculture thanks to Virginia Agriculture in the Classroom. 

The program, housed at Virginia Farm Bureau Federation since 1992, has connected children with agricultural concepts through professional development and resources for educators, school grants, teacher awards, volunteer initiatives and fundraisers.

In the last year, a record-breaking $430,000 was raised to support AITC activities.

Tammy Maxey, who has led Virginia AITC for 16 of the last 30 years, was recently named executive director of the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom.

A former teacher, principal and 2020 president of the National AITC Organization, Maxey said Virginia AITC continues to grow.

As the COVID-19 pandemic began, there was no roadmap for sharing educational resources in the era of social distancing and school closures.

“But it gave us room to grow in other ways,” she recalled. “We needed to serve our children and educators regardless of whether we could go to a school or see one another. Every bit of our growth the last few years was virtual. It forced probably 10 years of change overnight!”

Designing content and delivery formats

AITC administrators redesigned content development and program delivery formats, resulting in a new continuum of virtual lessons. Now its website, social media pages and YouTube channels are filled with activities for educators and children.

In 1981, national AITC was initiated by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture John Block to improve agricultural literacy among the nation’s students. In Virginia, the organization was established through a partnership between Virginia Cooperative Extension and Farm Bureau.

“In its first year, we saw 100 teachers and did a couple trainings,” Maxey said. “Pre-pandemic we directly trained up to 3,000 teachers! Now we have professional development for teachers and name a teacher of the year. We offer grants, and have an army of volunteers and AITC ambassadors.”

Grant recipients incorporate agricultural projects into core lessons year after year. And throughout annual Agriculture Literacy Week in March, statewide volunteers, including VFBF President Wayne F. Pryor, read the AITC Book of the Year to Virginia schoolchildren.

“Reading agriculture-themed books to children gives us an opportunity to share agriculture with students who might not be familiar with the industry,” he said. “And it helps them understand why it is so important in Virginia, and in their own communities too.