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Extension and Farm Bureau partner for ‘Ag in the Classroom’

FAIRFIELD — Jefferson County ISU Extension and Outreach is partnering with Jefferson County Farm Bureau to bring agricultural education to students in the Pekin and Fairfield school districts.

The two groups began their partnership last year with their “Ag in the Classroom” series that educated kids on chick hatching. The lesson was not limited to books and worksheets, but actual hands-on contact with eggs in an incubator. They did that program with students in kindergarten and first grade in Fairfield.

Hilary Lanman, 4-H County Youth Coordinator for Jefferson County, said teachers had the option of signing up to be part of “Ag in the Classroom,” and seven of them did so. The kids had fun checking the eggs with a candler to see if they were fertilized and to see the embryo’s development.

“Chickens have a 21-day gestation cycle, so for four weeks we did lessons with the students about what stage the chick is at in the egg,” Lanman said. “The kids were super excited. The fourth week we were there, most of the chicks had hatched, so then we talked about chicks themselves and how to take care of them.”

This school year, Extension and Farm Bureau have added lessons on pork and beef production, and they’ve expanded to other grade levels and to another district, Pekin. The Jefferson County Cattlemen approached them about adding a series on local cattle farmers, and the educators jumped at the chance to broaden their offerings.

Cattle farmers interact with students by asking the students what questions they have about their line of work, and the students submit questions for the farmers, who videotape their answers to play during class.

Lanman said these videos allow students to get a glimpse of farm life without having to go on a field trip.

“We can bring the farmer to the students with modern technology,” Lanman said.

Courtney Burkhalter, Program Coordinator for Jefferson County Extension, said she hopes to bring a bucket bottle calf to school during the beef program. Lessons on pork have not begun yet, but Burkhalter said the group plans to roll them out later in March to second- and third-graders.

Makenna Myers of Jefferson County Farm Bureau said the pork lessons will follow the model of the beef lessons the group has already done, where students will get to submit questions to local pork producers.

“The students can decide if they want to direct their question to a certain producer, and then I’ll reach out to that producer to record them, and show a video of them answering questions the next week at school,” Myers said.

Lanman said the lessons in “Ag in the Classroom” cover how animals are used, and what happens to their byproducts. Burkhalter said the partnering organizations chose to focus on eggs, beef and pork because Iowa is the top producer or one of the top producers in those three commodities.

“Iowa is the top producer of egg-laying chickens, top producer of pigs, and in this area, we have quite a few cows, too,” Burkhalter said.

The lessons come from the National Ag in the Classroom curriculum, and vary depending on the grade. For instance, fourth- and fifth-graders are both learning about beef, but covering different topics. The fourth-graders are learning the difference between a beef cow and a dairy cow.

“Last week, I went over with them how cows ruminate, and how they have a four-compartment stomach,” Burkhalter said. “In fifth grade, we’re learning about genetics, how certain traits are dominant and how they are passed on.”

Lanman said the students have been receptive to the lessons, and seem to enjoy doing something different and covering topics they don’t normally get to study. She said it helps that all three of the presenters — Burkhalter, Myers and herself — are all from the county, and have already interacted with the students through 4-H programs and ISU Extension day camps.

Myers said Farm Bureau has its own “Ag in the Classroom” program, which has allowed her to visit Pekin kindergarten every month since the beginning of the school year. She has led lessons on corn, planting and other ag-related topics.

Burkhalter said she and the other organizers are looking forward to continuing their “Ag in the Classroom” lessons next school year, too.

Jefferson County ISU Extension and Outreach are Jefferson County Farm Bureau are partnering to give Fairfield and Pekin students lessons on “Ag in the Classroom.” The leaders of these classes are, from left, Jefferson County ISU Extension Program Coordinator Courtney Burkhalter, Jefferson County 4-H County Youth Coordinator Hilary Lanman, and Makenna Myers of Jefferson County Farm Bureau. (Andy Hallman/The Union)
Makenna Myers of Jefferson County Farm Bureau leads a program on “Ag in the Classroom” at Pekin Elementary School. (Photo courtesy of Pekin schools)
Hilary Lanman leads a lesson in “Ag in the Classroom” to Pekin fourth-grade students. (Photo courtesy of Pekin schools)
Courtney Burkhalter helps Pekin students identify the parts of a cow during a lesson in “Ag in the Classroom,” a partnership between Jefferson County ISU Extension and Outreach and Jefferson County Farm Bureau. (Photo courtesy of Pekin schools)