Teacher's panel

Betty MacDonald (left) , who is principal of Montague Consolidated School, answers a question during an educator's panel held during the recent Agriculture in the Classroom Canada meeting at the Brudenell Resort. Looking on is Tamara Sealy, the executive director of Nutrients for Life.

For Betty MacDonald, the most exciting thing about being involved with Agriculture in the Classroom is seeing the excitement in the eyes of her students.

The principal at Montague Consolidated School recently took part in an education panel as part of the national meeting of Agriculture in the Classroom Canada held at the Brudenell Resort. MacDonald said one of the activities offered at her school is a gardening club that gives students the opportunity to learn first-hand how food is produced.

"They are just so excited to be involved and watch things grow," she said.

MacDonald, who has taught for over 20 years at schools in PEI and Quebec, admits to being surprised at the number of students who don't know where their food comes from. She told the meeting "you might think that is not the case in a rural province like PEI but it is."

The Montague principal said she encourages her staff to incorporate the lessons available from Agriculture in the Classroom PEI into the curriculum. She had high praise for the efforts of the work done by the Island committee, saying the materials available for teachers relates directly to the subjects being taught.

"Children, especially at elementary school, love to learn about plants and animals," she said. "It provides them with a connection to the real world."

Suba Aiyer told the group she found out first hand that passion for plants and animals also extended to the high school level. She is the first teacher of the agriscience and animal science programs at Colonel Gray High School. In the three years she has taught the program, it has grown from a handful of students to being one of the most popular courses at the Charlottetown school.

Aiyer said one of her first calls after getting that teaching assignment was to Laurie Loane at the Agriculture Sector Council (Loane is also both the provincial chair and the national president of Agriculture in the Classroom Canada).

"I was in a panic and they were just so helpful," she said. "This is a city school we are talking about and I just didn't know if the interest was going to be there."

When she organized a mini-version of Farm Day in the City at the school, complete with farm animals and a chance to learn directly from farmers, over 300 students took part. She told the national meeting "I have really seen a change in the student's perception of agriculture."

Meanwhile, the chair of the PEI Agriculture Awareness Committee, said that group has been working hard to bridge what she called the "disconnect" between the next generation of Islanders and the agriculture community.. Bernadette Forrester noted that each year on the Friday before Open Farm Day, over 600 Grade Three students attend farms across the province for a hands-on tour including the chance to pick potatoes.

"It is just an awesome experience and for me it is one of the most rewarding days of the year," she said.

Forrester said one of the main goals of her organization is to encourage producers to tell their story. While that comes easily for some, she said many producers find that challenging, especially if they feel they might encounter some negative feedback.

Tamara Sealy is the executive director of Nutrients for Life, which provides educational materials to schools focusing on soil science and sustainability. Her company is behind the interactive game Journey 2050, which allows students a glimpse of farming in both the developed and the developing world, including a look at current trends with predictions into the future.

Sealey said there is a waiting list for the game every year, adding "it has sparked an interest in agriculture in students that had never even considered the industry as a career choice previously.

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