Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom
Teacher of the Year Awards
2014 MAC Teacher of the Year
MAC is proud to announce that Jane Lucia has been chosen as our Teacher of the Year for 2014. Jane is a 7th Grade Life Science Teacher at the Williston Northampton School in Easthampton. She has been a keen supporter of MAC since she took our Summer Graduate Course in 2006, often bringing other teachers with her to our workshops and conferences. She readily shares with other educators the many ways that she uses agriculture and gardening to teach her students about science, food and sustainability.
The school garden, now in its eighth year, serves as an outdoor laboratory for middle school students during class time as well as a growing group of high school students eager to grow food sustainably during their time outside of class. The faculty celebrate the harvest each year by working with students school-wide to prepare the produce. It is a way for the students to reflect back to when they put the seeds into the ground that produced the fall harvest. Read about the Harvest Celebration at the School!
In 2013, Jane hosted a STEM workshop in her school garden as part of our summer workshops on the farm. Participants learned how she uses a cold frame in the spring as well as low tunnel garden beds in the fall for season extension. They also observed the ways the garden offers opportunities for problem solving through creative use of low and high technology engineering and mathematics to grow and preserve. Jane also taught three workshops on embryology and cooking in the classroom for our winter conferences.
2013 MAC Teacher of the Year
MAC is proud to announce that our Teacher of the Year for 2013 is Cynthia Jensen, Science Teacher at Gateway Regional High School in Huntington, where she teaches Biology, Biotechnology, Anatomy & Physiology and Forensics. Cyndi is such a huge fan and supporter of MAC, that she has taken our Summer Graduate Course for the past three summers and enlisted other teachers to take it as well. We have enjoyed the enthusiastic way that she can take any aspect of agriculture and adapt it for teaching her students, spinning out ideas for other teachers to use as well.
In 2012, she hosted one of our summer workshops on the farm at her home in Worthington - with a focus on fibers. Participants met her angora bunnies and had the chance to try spinning, weaving, and felting before touring a local fiber farm. She also taught a workshop on pollen in forensics for our 2012 Winter Conference.
Cyndi is an avid gardener at home and also helped start a garden at her school in 2004. In addition to her angora bunnies, she has raised bees and chickens. She received a BA in biological sciences and English language and literature from Smith College in 1996 and a MA in Biology from University of Nebraska-Kearney in 2011. She started teaching at Gateway Regional High School in 2001, where she has had a positive influence teaching her students with real life examples, including agriculture.
Congratulations Cyndi! Cyndi will receive her award during the lunch program at our November 9, 2013, Greening the School Conference in Brookline.
MAC 2012 Teacher of the Year
MAC is proud to announce that our Teacher of the Year for 2012 is Jessica Ouimet, 5th grade teacher at the Philip G. Coburn Elementary School in West Springfield. Jessica participated in our 2010 Summer Graduate Course, where we quickly discovered her wealth of knowledge and experience with growing and raising her own food, and sharing that knowledge with her students. Since then Jessica has offered two workshops on chickens and embryology for our Winter Conferences and also welcomed teachers to her home in Westfield and fledgling farm in Russell for an educational workshop. We truly appreciate her support of MAC and her enthusiasm for agriculture, which she shares readily with others.
Building on the experiences of raising all of her own meat and growing and canning much of her own fruits and vegetables, Jessica tries to pass on and teach her students a life-long respect and knowledge for the world around them and the part they play in this world. While many of her students and their parents have always lived in suburbia, the school also houses the district's ELL elementary students, many of whom have farming backgrounds or their parents have farming backgrounds. These students bring a different perspective to her classroom.
Jessica’s and Alan’s farm is located in Russell, the next town over from where they live in Westfield. They purchased the land in 2003 with the intention of building a home there. They married in 2004 in the field. The farming piece started with hatching chicks in the classroom, when she decided to keep them as part of an egg laying flock. To the hatched white leghorns, they added seven other chicks of other varieties. That first flock had just 15 chickens and now the laying flock consists of around 80 chickens, 4 turkeys, and 6 guinea fowl, and 13 ducks.
Of course, that first batch of chicks had many roosters (too many for such a small flock) and the extras became dinners. Jessica says “This was the first time I had to look my food in the eye and take care of it personally. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done, but I have developed a whole new level of respect for my food.” Since then, Jess will not buy or eat any conventionally raised meat. They raise all of our own meat poultry (chickens, turkeys, ducks) and now pigs as well. This allows them to ensure that the animals who will become their food will have a happy, healthy existence where they can be outside in the sun and fresh air, have adequate space, eat grass (and other tasty plants) and bugs. She tells us “I respect and value their lives too much to accept anything less. Plus, I feel the meat our animals produce is of a higher quality when compared to conventionally raised.”
The small amount of beef they eat comes from another local farm with similar values. They also purchase milk from a local grass-based dairy. They are all about humane treatment and respect for the animals. Jessica lives by the philosophy “It is out of this respect that I share my love of hatching, raising, and keeping chickens. I feel if more people were educated about where their food comes from, more people would demand change -- change in the grocery store and therefore change on their dinner plates.”
Because of this deep respect for raising her own food, Jessica blogs about the farm and her experiences, and also enjoys helping other teachers start their own embryology projects. It offers her a chance to pass on the knowledge and hopefully the passion!
Jessica does hatch chicks every year with her students, and this last school year they hatched turkey poults and guinea fowl keets as well. She is passionate about keeping these animals and feels any time you can share something you love with your students, they can tell and the excitement is contagious. You get a higher level of buy in and investment from your students.
Jessica has also brought students to the local farmers' market. She used the trip to introduce the idea of getting kids interested in eating healthier, understanding seasonality, and valuing where their food comes from. Along this same thought of knowing where your food comes from and how it is produced, she has brought in maple sap collected from one of the taps on her farm, which they boiled down into maple syrup.
The students were amazed in observing the sap to syrup ratio (which would mean nothing to them without the visual). She helped establish a garden at school (donating many plants by splitting things from her own garden) which has provided many learning opportunities (plant life cycle, composting, how changes in weather affect plants, etc.). Students have snacked from it, sometimes eating fresh onions and raw cabbage right out of the garden at recess!
They saved seed in the fall and used those seeds to start new plants (tomatoes and basil) in the spring. These plants went home with the students to hopefully start (or add to) their own gardens. Jessica reports “What I have found is that there are many agriculture related topics which can assist in teaching required curriculum, in areas other than just science! Jessica tells us "Ultimately, through these experiences, what I try to pass on and teach my students is a life-long respect and knowledge for the world around them and the part they play in this world as future stewards of this planet."
MAC 2011 Teacher of the Year
MAC is proud to announce that our 2011 Teacher of the Year is Teresa Strong, science specialist at Harvard-Kent Elementary School in Charleston. Teresa participated in our 2007 Summer Graduate Course and was awarded two mini-grants from MAC in 2007 and again in 2011. She has taught several workshops for other teachers at our annual conferences. Always one of MAC's biggest advocates, Teresa shares notices of our education programs with Boston school educators. We enjoy her enthusiasm for agriculture and science, as well as her readiness to share.
Teresa has a Bachelors Degree in English and a Masters in Elementary Education and another in Middle School Science Education. She has worked in the Boston Public Schools for 19 years as a science specialist, computer teacher, 4th grade teacher and a peer teacher leader. She has helped present teacher workshops on gardening and outdoor science education with the Boston Natural Areas Network, Boston Schoolyard Initiative and the Boston Public Schools.
Teresa's tells us "her interest in gardening and nature started in childhood, where I went through stages of focused self-education--from herpetology, entomology, and aquatic life. As a young adult, I went on to work at nature centers, summer camps, and after school programs where I learned to be a naturalist educator and hands-on science educator. When I was 24, I got my first house plant from a friend and promptly killed it. It was through this event that I developed a budding interest in plants, so I joined a community garden in Boston." It was there that she I learned from other gardeners about many different types of plants, the pests that harm them, and various organic
gardening techniques to get maximum output from food plants. "It was through gardening that I first understood myself as a participant in nature, not just an outside observer. It was then I started to develop a deep understanding of ecology and ecosystems-how everything is connected and is there for a reason."
When Teresa started her career in Boston Public Schools, her naturalist and gardening experience naturally oozed into what sheI taught in the classroom. She found that hands-on experiences gave all students access to the curriculum, but felt that she wasn't providing them with the same kind of deep and enjoyable experiences that motivated me her as child to become a self directed learner. She tried doing activities outside in the concrete covered schoolyard, but that felt contrived. They hatched chickens inside, and that was real exciting for about 6 weeks, but she decided what was really needed was a schoolyard garden that could be used all year-a place where children could learn about many different science topics while participating in the real life struggle of survival in nature: Why are plants here? How and why are they different? What do they need? What animals need them?
Unfortunately, all she had to work with was one raised bed with very bad soil. And so they grew sick plants in wormless soil. Then out of the blue, she got an e-mail from Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom announcing
a farm based summer college course. She signed up and tells us she was not disappointed. During the graduate experience with MAC she got to be on farms with real farmers,who were raising real food for real people. She learned from fellow educators how to bring agricultural content into her classroom in an engaging way. And she tells us "she learned so much more - the hallmark of experiential learning in an authentic setting. The timing was perfect - when I returned to school that fall, Boston Natural Areas Network, had just launched its schoolyard gardening program called SLUG or Students Learning through Urban Gardening. I got involved with that program and that Spring our school received two dump truck loads of compost, garden tools, seeds, worm bins, etc. I'll never forget one little soil-covered boy looking up at me as I filled his bucket with compost, joyfully exclaiming:'I want to be a scientist when I grow up!' "
Teresa now teaches science at the Harvard Kent Elementary in Charlestown. The school is outfitted with several grow labs where students have started numerous plants from seed, but they have no outdoor gardening space. Last year, the school will began planning a new schoolyard it is building through a grant from the Boston Schoolyard initiative. Teresa's fifth grade students are getting the chance to design their versions of the new schoolyard. After
their trip Fall to the Big E, generously funded by MA Ag in the Classroom and the Trustees of the Big E,she things they may included a full-blown farm in their designs! Congratulations Teresa! We wishe you and your students a productive agricultural year.
2010 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year
MAC is proud to announce that our Teacher of the Year for 2010 is Cassandra Uricchio, who teaches agriculture and life science at Mount Everett High School in Sheffield. Cassie participated in our 2007 Summer Graduate Course. She was awarded a mini-grant in 2008 to construct a school farm on campus. We have been inspired by her energy and passion for teaching agriculture and the many new programs she created.
The local Sheffield community shares our enthusiasm for Cassie and her agricultural education efforts. We received nomination letters from the school's principal; director of technology and vocational education; FFA president; the regional school district and the executive director of the Land Trust as well as a local farmer. All applauded her energy and drive and the connections she makes with her students, while also linking agriculture and the community.
After receiving a B.S. in Animal Science from UConn and a M.S. in Agricultural Education from NC State University, Cassie began teaching at Mt. Everett in 2006. She started a new agriscience program & FFA chapter in 2007. She developed new courses including Agricultural Biology; Agri-Science & Biotechnology; Animal Science, Plant Science; Pathobiology, and Fish & Wildlife Management. In the community she collaborated with the building structures program to raise a barn on school campus. Cassie is currently on leave of absence to return to NCSU on full assistantship to finish her Ed.D in Agricultural & Extension Education. We congratulate her and wish her the best in her studies.