Not many first-graders get to make presentations to the state Board of Education, but in the spring, 60 Heatherstone Elementary students took a rare opportunity to share their newfound knowledge of Kansas agriculture with the academic committee.
“We want the state of Kansas to add teaching ideas on how to use agriculture to teach social studies,” said Nancy Smith, first-grade teacher at Heatherstone.
Having a year of a farm-to-table focus in the classroom combined with their first taste of advocacy made for a unique educational experience.
“Getting to board that bus and go to Topeka and see the capital and go to the Board of Education — that opened a world to them that they absolutely would not have experienced (otherwise),” said Toni Cole, principal of Heatherstone. “It wasn’t just, ‘Learn this line so we can do this performance.’ They deeply understood what they had been learning.”
That’s just one reason the school recently received the Civic Advocacy Network Award from the Kansas Department of Education.
It started because Smith felt kids should know where their food comes from, especially in a state with such an agriculture-based economy. She hopes that when the next curriculum revision cycle comes around, the state will consider her suggestions.
“Our kids can walk a little bit out of our neighborhood and see crops growing, yet they’ve never been in a corn field. They don’t know the whole planting, harvesting — how that actually gets to your plate. They don’t understand that there’s a difference between popcorn and sweetcorn,” Smith said.
She’s worked hard to bring in different educational experiences, from having kids dissect cornstalks to visiting the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs. Now, she’s seeing the dividends.