County AITCs help Illinois schools pivot to remote learning

By Kay Shipman

From video farm tours to egg incubation at home, county Agriculture in the Classroom (AITC) coordinators are adapting and creating ag-related resources as schools statewide rely on remote learning during the COVID-19 quarantine.

On April 1, the Illinois State Board of Education instructed public schools for K-12 to use remote learning until classes resume. Gov. J.B. Pritzker closed public and private schools by extending his shelter-in-place order until April 30.

“I’m sure you didn’t plan on setting up chicken coops in your homes when this project started, but my little guy is loving the updates,” an Effingham County parent wrote a teacher and Lynn Wolff, county AITC coordinator. “Bless you all and thanks so much.”

Lee County Ag in the Classroom assembles materials for ag-related lessons to be given to students. (Photo courtesy Lee County Farm Bureau) 

While IAITC expanded its online resources, county ag literacy coordinators built on those efforts not only by helping local teachers and parents but also others across the country.

“There are phenomenal projects going on,” said Kevin Daugherty, director of Illinois Farm Bureau’s Center for Agricultural Engagement.

FarmWeek is sharing a sample of county AITC efforts. To learn what’s available locally, contact your county ag literacy coordinator.

Cook County AITC is using existing video to create lessons that are shared on Facebook and link teachers and families to the county AITC website, said Diane Merrion. Click here and find new tabs for e-learning and remote learning.

The first video featured AITC volunteer Kathy Lesser and her grandchildren demonstrating how to make ice cream in a bag. Their video had been viewed more than 9,000 times since March 24.

Michele Govea, Cardenas Elementary School seventh-grade science teacher, praised the videos: “I shared them and the website. Love them all!”

Effingham County AITC is supporting teachers from three schools who are incubating eggs in their homes, said Wolff, county AITC coordinator. In addition to incubators and eggs, each school received a Wi-Fi camera and links to embryology lessons before the schools were closed.

Each teacher is sharing video updates with students on Facebook and other social media platforms. The teachers’ videos have been shared and viewed hundreds of time. The county AITC has posted several teacher videos on Facebook. One teacher called the experience “an adventure” and told Wolff she’s thankful for technology “so I can still share this educational experience with my students and others.”

“I am so glad we are able to share the hatching of chickens to so many in such a positive way,” Wolff added.

Lee County Farm Bureau AITC is involved with daily Facebook live farm visits hosted by students and adults across the country. Lee County’s Ag Literacy Coordinator Katie Pratt and Kansas farmer Nicole Small share on online Flat Aggie program here. One of the most-viewed videos, watched 3,000 times within 24 hours, was hosted by four Althaus sisters of Amboy. They discussed a history of ag equipment while showing their family’s antique tractor collection.

“Each day is different. We hope to fill all the school days through May,” Pratt said.

Zylar and Zaylee McMahel look over their zinnia seeds from Ag in the Classroom in White and Wayne counties. (Photo courtesy of White County and Wayne County Farm Bureaus)

Lee County AITC also assembled and distributed more than 250 ag bag lessons and resources for students’ distance learning at three schools. Topics include how plants grow, corn, grain and pigs.

Marshall-Putnam Farm Bureau in partnership with the local University of Illinois Extension is providing AITC lessons for students who pick up a weekly lunch at school, said Tiffany Moody, Farm Bureau manager. For example, a soil lesson included seeds, peat pot and a ruler or magnifying glass to follow plant growth, an Ag Mag and fun activities.

Moody explained other ag bag topics included popcorn, embryology and conservation heroes. “We are providing superhero masks and information on Earth Day,” she noted. Abrianne Holler with Extension will incubate eggs with the county Farm Bureau posting updates here.

AITC programs in White and Wayne counties are sending zinnia seed packets and a letter to families and teachers who email addresses to Ryan Scott, county AITC coordinator. Scott had sent 183 packets by April 1.

“We have had an amazing response,” Scott said. “I have even mailed seeds to South Dakota, North Carolina, Arkansas, Florida and Alabama. Countless parents have thanked us for the encouragement. I have had several parents message me how happy they were to receive something from Ag in the Classroom.”

Molly and Madison Knapp of Magnolia enjoy their lesson about seeds from Marshall-Putnam Farm Bureau and the University of Illinois Extension. (Photo courtesy Marshall-Putnam Farm Bureau)

One mom wrote, “My daughter loves to get mail and plant things. Thank you so much for doing this program for our kids!”

Whiteside County AITC pivoted to provide teachers and parents with more online educational links and ideas, said Diane Baker, county ag literacy coordinator.

In addition, Baker began trying to assemble learning bags of lessons for about 1,000 students, but reported some supplies, such as peat pots and cornstarch, proved difficult to find.

Plans were to distribute the first 100 Spring on the Farm bags about planting and egg hatching April 6 and another 200 Wednesday. If Baker received enough supplies, she hoped to supply a third district with ag bags.

“Teachers are very appreciative that we are supporting them and their kids,” Baker said. “They all comment how much their kids are missing hands-on science activities. We appreciate the opportunity to support our Ag in the Classroom kids.”

Daugherty concluded: “The strength of the IAITC has always been, and will always be, the phenomenal support and creativity generated at the county level. I was confident they’d be able to handle the digital online challenge to best support their local teachers.”

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