We love to celebrate the successes of educators who are helping students to better understand where their food comes from. Today we are happy to share the news that Christine Girtain, a participant in the Foundation’s On The Farm STEM program in 2021 and 2022 from Toms River High School North, has been named the 2022-23 New Jersey State Teacher of the Year. Congratulations, Christine!
We got to ask Christine about her experience and what advice she’d give to others.
How did you become involved with the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture?
I didn’t have much exposure to agriculture. I first got connected to the coordinator for the New Jersey Ag in the Classroom program while looking for grants to support my high school students doing biotech and agricultural research projects, and she made me aware of the On The Farm STEM opportunity and asked if I could get a team of teachers together to apply. We did! I brought three other science teachers with me. We all toured the beef industry in Tennessee in 2021. Then in 2022, I brought four middle school teachers. Three were science teachers and the fourth was a career education teacher.
What has your experience with the On The Farm STEM program been like?
It was so amazing to be able to meet farmers in states I have never visited before and to learn about the states themselves as well as meet Farm Bureau members. The experience has made me reflect on my own teaching practices and enhance what I do by incorporating an agricultural story lens so I can vary the lens by which my students see the world. A large portion of America is three generations removed from the farm. Instead of just teaching STEM through the lens of human disease, I now incorporate soil, livestock, and crop storylines so students are more in touch with their food and career options.
What has been the biggest surprise for you as you’ve learned more about agriculture and the people involved in it?
I did not know that popcorn was a separate plant from sweet corn! I thought we just popped the same corn we eat off the cob. Many teachers and students are like me in New Jersey and do not know this. This is just another example of how we have lost touch with knowing where our food comes from and how it is grown.
I also did not realize how high-tech agriculture is and how long and hard the farmers work to feed us. I really have a better appreciation for the men and women who are feeding me. I was very happy to learn that farmers and ranchers are interested in investing in education with their checkoff dollars. My life and teaching have been altered by their investment. Agriculture was not on my radar until I was able to attend these programs. Now STEM workforce sustainability and Agriculture Literacy are my platforms as New Jersey State Teacher of the Year and hopefully as a future National Teacher of the Year.
How can farmers and ranchers work more effectively with teachers like you to help students learn more about agriculture?
Continue educating both Ag and non-Ag teachers so we can get the message out to students.There are many things that can be done. One thing that comes to mind is to support the alumni of the On The Farm STEM program to present at their state and national conferences and use the conferences as a way to bring those alumni back together to network with each other and meet new teachers that they can tell about their Ag Literacy journey.
I also think teachers in each state need to be made more aware of which schools in what districts have Ag programs so they can seek contacts in their own communities.
What advice would you give to other teachers who want to explore bringing agriculture to their classrooms?
Get out on the farms and meet the farmers! Attend a local Farm Bureau meeting and get connected with your local farmers. And definitely apply for the next On The Farm STEM program!
Thank you, Christine, for sharing your experience with us. We’re so glad you’ve continued to educate yourself and your students about agriculture. Congratulations!
(Make sure you’re signed up for the Foundation’s eNewsletter to be informed of when applications for the 2023 On The Farm STEM program are open.)