The Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation has selected two teachers for 2019 Nebraska Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher of the Year honors. The Teacher of the Year is awarded to two outstanding teachers that incorporate agriculture into their classroom through innovative ideas and lessons.
Carolyn Dolezal, a fourth-grade teacher at St. Peter’s Catholic School in Lincoln, and Abbey Spaulding, a second-grade teacher at Fredstrom Elementary School in Lincoln, were honored at surprise ceremonies at their schools on Jan. 8.
“Both Carolyn and Abby demonstrate how teachers can enhance core-subject learning by featuring agriculture and the many ways it impacts our lives here in Nebraska. They are engaging the next generation in critical thinking about where their food, fiber and fuel comes from, and we are happy to honor their important work,” said Megahn Schafer, executive director of the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation.
Dolezal has been part of the Ag Pen Pal Program for 15 years. Her classroom’s pen pals are Neal and Carol Pavlish in Saline County. Her fourth-grade students eagerly read the letters about their pen pals’ crops, facts about the animals, and the perseverance of being on a farm. Each spring, Dolezal’s class takes a field trip to Pavlish’s farm in Crete where the Pavlish family shares the joys and day-to-day work at the farm. This includes gathering eggs from their chickens, the process of planting corn using a planter and tractor, and getting up close with the cows.
“A favorite activity is feeding the Black Angus steers hay through the fence,” said Dolezal. “At the farm is where they begin to understand the fact that these steers provide meat at their homes or in restaurants.”
Dolezal grew up on a farm in Pawnee County. She often relates agriculture back to what the kids are learning in school. She processed honey for her family table, so she shares the importance of bees as pollinators to her students. Her family also milked cows and sold cream, so when her students make butter out of cream she can help them understand where butter comes from.
This year is Spaulding’s third year participating in the Ag Pen Pal Program. Her class also attends the Foundation’s popular Virtual Field Trips. These field trips use technology to allow farmers and ranchers to open their barn doors to show students what happens on their farms and ranches. The farmer or rancher uses a tablet to connect with classrooms to be a part of a live video-chat allowing students to ask questions. Spaulding’s class attended a virtual field trip to a pig farm where they got to see baby pigs and learn about the care they receive and how they grow.
“It’s amazing how technology can connect students to a far-away place and make them feel like they are there from our very own classroom!” Spaulding said. “Many of my students do not have experience with agriculture or rural life on the farm or ranch, so this has given them the chance to see what farm life is like first hand.”
Spaulding’s grandfather was a farmer in Minden for most of his life, so she knows firsthand what it takes to work the land, grow the crops, and put so much of yourself into this career. Spaulding feels an obligation to pass the import lessons her grandpa gave her to her students.
“Farming is the cornerstone to our economy in Nebraska, and we need to teach our students these lessons,” Spaulding said. “Being a native Nebraskan has given me the opportunity to share those values and experiences that are so deeply rooted in living in the Midwest!”
Each teacher will receive an expense-paid trip to the National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference, an accurate agriculture book bundle featuring 12 books and corresponding literature guides, and a $250 cash prize. The conference, held June 18-21 in Little Rock, AR, brings educators together from all over the United States to learn how to use agricultural concepts to effectively teach core subjects such as reading, math, science, and social studies. The conference features recognition for Teacher of the Year honorees, educational workshops, traveling workshops to agribusinesses and research facilities, and farm tours.
Information provided by Nebraska Farm Bureau.