By Stan Maddux
INDIANAPOLIS – Teaching agriculture in school classrooms across Indiana is going virtual and will not be going away even when the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
Indiana Farm Bureau, which has sent volunteer educators into classrooms for more than 30 years, will have both a physical and digital presence in schools long term as part of its strategy to continue and expand public literacy on how food reaches the consumer.
“We got to think outside the box here to continue teaching about the importance of agriculture and where food comes from,” said Lindi Kocher, INFB education coordinator. “We’re thrilled to be able to continue that important education virtually.”
Kocher said digital instruction on agriculture is in response to the Indiana Department of Education wanting to limit the number of classroom visitors at schools opening their doors in the fall. Some school corporations have chosen to allow students back into traditional classrooms under precautions like masks and social distancing while others will begin the year with eLearning or a combination of both.
Kocher said INFB has traditionally sent volunteers into classrooms periodically during the school year to give lessons about farming under a nationwide outreach started by USDA in the early 1980s. Now, the volunteers will now interact with students digitally through live or recorded video lessons.
Volunteers are also being given the option of sending classroom activity kits containing things like seeds, books and worksheets in advance to help with the virtual lessons.
For now, Kocher said digital technology is an important tool for maintaining public literacy about farming, and once things return to normal, furthering the momentum by including it with the physical presence in the classrooms.
Among the benefits of going digital is the ability to expose students to different farms across the state and what’s raised at each location.
“We have such a variety of agriculture within Indiana. The ability to connect virtually means that students in southern Indiana could visit a dairy farm in northern Indiana without leaving the classroom,” she said.
The digital instruction falls under the newly launched “Adopt a Classroom” program aimed at getting more schools to take part in the farm education lessons.
INFB has volunteer educators in all 92 counties and each one will be allowed to make connections with schools closer to home. Schools wanting to enroll classrooms into the program and people interested in becoming a volunteer educator can enroll at www.infb.org/INFBAgEd/adoptaclassroom.
“We hope the Adopt a Classroom program gives teachers another option for providing their students with a diverse education whether those students are working from home or the classroom this fall,” Kocher said.