2nd grade teacher, Plymouth Elementary School, Amador County Unified School District, Amador County
This interview was originally published in the June 2010 issue of CFAITC's e-newsletter, "Cream of the Crop."
How long have you been teaching or working with students?
I started teaching in 1981 in Lodi Unified, and have been in Amador County USD since 1987. I have also taught summer school for most of my teaching years. When we were able to be more creative in teaching during the summertime, I used to do units on insects or animals for the students' reading and math work. One summer, we even got to go out and read in a park-like setting, which made the kids want to spend more time reading.
Why did you choose to become an educator?
I actually wanted to become a scientist, but couldn't decide on which kind I liked the best—marine biology was high on my list, but so was entomology, meteorology, and so many other "-ologies" that I couldn't pick just one! I ended up taking some education classes in college to fulfill requirements, and decided to get my teaching credential from that with an emphasis on early childhood education.
How do you integrate agriculture into the curriculum or activities you teach?
My classes always do many projects with science. We have learned about the life cycles of many things by raising many different kinds of butterflies, ladybugs, frogs, praying mantis, and even salmonids in our classroom. And, having a butterfly garden right outside of my classroom, we are continually finding something in the garden to learn about as we walk through it on our way back to our room. We occasionally even have a "friend" from the garden visit as our class pet for the day when we have our door open.
Describe any innovative agriculture-based projects you have been involved in developing.
When I first started the idea of making a butterfly garden at our school I gathered some live milkweed plants, placing one Monarch caterpillar on each plant, to put in several different classrooms. After we watched the caterpillars emerge from their chrysalis and released the Monarch butterflies, we planted the milkweed plants in an area that we decided would become a mini-butterfly garden for our school. Unfortunately, we started that around an older portable building that had to be removed a couple of years later, and all of the plants were destroyed in the process. But then we developed a bigger and better butterfly garden that we have now, right outside of my classroom. We've had many people to help us get it done, like former principal Bruce Peccianti, Mr. Robert Moody with the Amador County Fair, and local farmers Jim and Mike Spinetta, who made it all possible to even begin and continue. The butterfly garden is recognized as a National Wildlife Federation Certified Backyard Habitat, Monarch Waystation #1544, and is a Farms of Amador 'fledgling' member.
Give an example of how you use agriculture to teach in your classroom or in your program.
We're doing our butterfly unit right now and we just finished raising salmonids and releasing the fry in the Mokelumne River last month. We also have the praying mantis egg cases hatching in our classroom and find ladybug larva and pupas throughout our garden each day.
Tell us about one person who has most influenced your own education and educational career.
My oldest sister is a retired teacher and I used to help her correct papers when I was a "kid." The science that I got involved in was just from my own curiosity about the world.
Tell us about a golden teaching moment.
Most teachers will tell you that they have so many special moments that they can't pick just one. That's what teaching is all about! But my golden teaching moments are always whenever an older student comes up to me in public and wants to give me a hug. That reminds me of just how much teachers influence the lives of people forever.
What is your favorite AITC program/resource/event and why?
Jim Spinetta, an Amador County winegrape grower and California Farm Bureau District Director, along with his brother, Mike, a UCCE Master Gardener, have made it a tradition to volunteer at the garden. My class continues to work with both Jim and Mike Spinetta on nearly every program that they bring to us, and I love every one of them. Since we've been so involved in the garden, I would have to say that those programs are my favorite.
Why is it important for our students to be agriculturally literate and aware in today's society?
If we don't teach students about the importance of agriculture, it will be such a loss for both themselves and our society. We need everyone to understand how everything on the Earth is connected and what we do to one piece of it affects all other pieces somehow. Everything in our lives depends on something else, from the tiniest insect to the largest mountain. If we don't take care of one piece, it may make other pieces fail.