L to R: Tony Young, asst. superintendent; Rick Jasperse, state representative; Dr. Carlton Wilson, superintendent; Jennifer Halko, principal; Sonia Chapman, Ag Ed teacher; Tucker Green, board chairman; Donna Enis, board member; Tim Baisden, director of CTAE; Angela Kretschmar, assistant principal.
By Destini Shope
Director of Community Engagement
Pickens County Schools
Several members of the community, local dignitaries, Mrs. Phelps’ second grade students, kindergarten teachers and students, along with school and district leaders, gathered at the revived gazebo in the outdoor agriculture area of Hill City Elementary to kick-off the pilot agriculture program. The program at Hill City is one of 20 across the state. This year’s kindergarten students are the first to have agriculture education offered from their kindergarten through 12th grade school career.
You may be wondering why elementary schools have agricultural classes since these classes have been traditionally taught at the middle and high school levels. You might only think of agriculture as swine, goats, and cows, or even plants like the beautiful poinsettias grown in the green house over at Pickens High through their horticulture program. On the other hand, maybe the blue corduroy jackets with the gold FFA emblem cause you to think of agriculture. Did you know that agriculture is Georgia’s largest industry? Not only is it a big deal across the state, it is a really big deal right here in Pickens County.
Sonia Chapman is a certified agriculture educator at the elementary level and is the only elementary Ag certified teacher in the state. Mrs. Chapman has spent countless hours over the summer pouring love into getting everything ready for the program – an Ag barn, green house, and even a garden with vegetables. When asked what she planned to do with the vegetables, Mrs. Chapman shared that in her class, they will be doing a little cooking and tasting.
Students at Hill City will be engaged in lessons about animal science, plant science, jobs in agriculture, and natural resource conservation. Students will have the opportunity to communicate through writing, speaking, listening, and reading in addition to developing interpersonal skills. Developing these skills will be done through class and lab activities, collaborative learning experiences and personal and leadership development.
Principal Jennifer Halko is excited about the opportunity the program brings to the children of her school. She shares, “Agriculture education will have far reaching benefits for our students and community. In addition, reading, math, science and social studies are embedded in the agriculture standards. Ultimately, students will develop an understanding of the importance of agriculture and its impact on their daily lives.”
Most teachers would describe their career as a calling, one that began at a very young age. Mrs. Chapman describes this as the perfect opportunity for her after 17 years of teaching kindergarten and second grade. She tells of her childhood memories that were often surrounded by agriculture and that growing up, her grandparents always farmed. Some of her fondest memories are of sitting on the front porch with other family members, shelling peas and sharing stories – a simpler time in life. She has always enjoyed gardening and raising animals. All three of her children showed pigs throughout their school careers, and if you know anything about showing animals, it is definitely a family commitment. The Chapman children were all officers in the Pickens FFA chapter, and the two oldest boys were Area 1 officers. Her oldest son was the FFA state president and her husband, David, was the Area 1 state alumni officer for three years. Her oldest son teaches agriculture at Oconee County Middle School.
Mrs. Chapman wanted to teach elementary agriculture to students because she believes it is the perfect age to help foster a love for farming, animals, and plants. She hopes her students develop an interest that lasts a lifetime. “Students need to understand where their food comes from, how it is grown, and that there are different ways to grow things,” Chapman explained. “They need to be aware of the process their food goes through from seed to table. The children of today are our future. We need to educate them in all things agriculture so that when they become adults, they can carry on the work to be done when it comes to farming, raising livestock, and everything agriculture includes.”