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April 4, 2013

Local teacher honored for bringing agriculture to the classroom

By Michelle Miller
Cooperstown Crier

---- — There are fewer children than in years past who grow up on farms, but Cooperstown Central School seventh-graders are getting to learn about agriculture firsthand in and outside of the classroom. 

CCS life science teacher Amy Parr was recently recognized locally for her efforts toward providing her students with the opportunity to make connections between the farm and their everyday lives. Parr was presented with the New York Agriculture in the Classroom 2013 Teacher of the Year Award at the middle/high school on March 22. According to NYAITC coordinator Katie Bigness, Parr was selected by an advisory committee in November from six applicants. 

“She had tough competition, but her programs are so innovative and creative that she truly stood out,” Bigness said.

Bigness said Parr’s sister nominated her for the state award without her knowing, so when Parr was notified, it came as a surprise. 

Parr, who got her first full-time position with CCS 16 years ago, called the recognition “humbling.” 

“All of these years I thought I was just having fun doing the things that I love and doing the things I thought were important. I wanted to make science come to life for my students,” she said. 

NYAITC’s mission is to foster awareness, understanding and appreciation of how people produce food and fiber, what people eat and how they live, by helping educators, students and their communities learn about and engage with agriculture and food systems. Established in 1985, NYAITC is a partnership of Cornell University, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, the state Education Department, Cornell Cooperative Extension and the New York Farm Bureau. The program works with pre-K through middle school teachers, Cornell Cooperative Extension and other community educators, farmers and producers, volunteers, parents and community partners to increase agricultural literacy in the state. 

The Cooperstown teacher will be formally recognized as the 2013 New York Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher of the Year at the New York Farm Bureau’s Spring Conference. Bigness said Parr will have the chance to attend the National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference in Minneapolis, Minn., in June where she will compete to become a nationally recognized Teacher of the Year.

“We are thankful that her sister (who is also a CCS teacher) shared what she has done. Her expeditions should be a model for other teachers across the state,” Bigness added. 

According to an article posted on agclassroom.org, Parr’s students learn the scientific concepts of local and global ecology and how to connect them with art through the lens of the Agricultural Expedition, making the impact of her integration of agriculture into her curriculum clear. From plotting acres on her parents’ nearby dairy farm as a math lesson to identifying and drawing aquatic insects as part of life science and art lessons, Parr routinely incorporates real-world concepts about the impact of agriculture on global ecology and health into learning opportunities for her students.   

“When I am in the classroom and start talking about agriculture, the students’ faces light up. They just love it,” Parr said. 

Parr has developed the Agricultural Expedition curriculum, guiding her student’s learning with the question “How do our food choices impact our health and the health of our planet?” The article says Parr’s students gain a better understanding of the ecosystems around them and farmers who support them through the integration of science and art.

Parr said her goal is to have her students look at the farm as a system, and she feels her students learn better from hands-on experiences. 

The ideas included in Parr’s curriculum all stem from growing up on a farm and the sharing of her parents’ dairy heard test sheets. She said the sheets include all of the cows’ names, their milk production for the month, previous milk production and projections to what they should produce the next month, along with other data.

“It was that data that I could incorporate into my classroom lessons,” Parr said. “I wanted to have real true life data that the students could use to complete lab work and learn how to make graphs and read charts and tables.”

Once students read and learned all the cows’ names they then wanted to meet the animals, she said. Parr said that is when she began planning trips to her parents’ organic farm in Hartwick. 

Parr said her mother and father, Patti and Ciff Brunner, have always been supportive of her ideas.

“I wanted the students to have an introduction to agriculture and ecology and reinforce the knowledge of cycles in nature,” Parr continued. 

Each year, Parr’s curriculum changes somewhat. She said it all depends on what resources are made available and with whom she is able to collaborate. 

“Collaborating with other teachers is a really important part of making a large program work,” she said. 

The teacher said she has had farmers come to the school in the past so that students can interview them. This year, Parr said she is taking a different approach. One of the farmers suggested that students begin growing their own food, according to Parr. She said she is taking his advice and when the spring growing season arrives students will visit the Farmers’ Museum to help plant a Three Sisters Garden. 

“There will be a theme that ties their experiences together. They are going to learn how food has shaped our culture and history,” she said.   

She said her students will also participate in the local Growing Community program for the first time this year. 

“I met with sixth-graders before they came to my classroom and told them if they planted things in a garden and shared the food and took pictures of that process along the way they could get extra credit when they got to my class,” Parr said. 

Some of the students took on the challenge, and photos are posted on the walls in the halls outside Parr’s classroom. 

Parr attended her first conference as agriculture teacher of the year in January. She said it gave her a chance to network with people and talk about the programs she has in her classroom. 

“It was a wonderful opportunity to see agriculture on a much bigger scale,” Parr said.