MAEF’s mobile science lab marks 1 million served
URBANA, Md. — For 24 years, mobile agricultural science labs have criss-crossed Maryland visiting elementary schools giving lessons about what it takes to grow and make food.
That sustained effort, one of the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation’s signature programs, celebrated the mark of reaching 1 million students May 15, with a week-long visit to Urbana Elementary in Frederick County.
“I’m overwhelmed,” said Jeanne Mueller, MAEF’s elementary education director. “It was a great thing to celebrate and it was great to celebrate it here.”
The mobile labs have been visiting the school annually for at least the last seven years and Mueller said about half of the school’s staff has taken MAEF’s Ag In The Classroom summer training workshop.
“They know what we’re about,” Mueller added with a proud smile.
Years ago, as a teacher at Liberty Elementary in Frederick County, Mueller attended MAEF’s first summer workshop and was easily hooked on integrating agriculture into her lessons.
“It changed the way I taught,” she said of the workshop, “using an agriculture emphasis and the kids love the hands on aspect.”
She said the workshop dovetails with the mobile labs by helping teachers learn about one by experiencing the other. Now after more than two decades of visiting schools, Mueller said adults often tell her they remember their trips through the labs.
“You know you’re making an impression when kids remember nine or ten years later what they had done,” she said.
Karl Kidd, a fifth grade teacher at Urbana, said he participated in the summer workshop with his wife, also a teacher, nine years ago and “just fell in love with the need to open kids’ eyes to agriculture. We feel it’s really important.”
Along with having the mobile lab visit the school, Kidd said the school holds an annual Harvest Day celebration centered around learning about corn and pumpkins and have an Ag and the Bay Day looking at things farmers do to improve water quality and conserve resources.
Through the week-long visit, mobile labs use hands-on agriculture-focused activities matched to Common Core Curriculum, STEM and Environmental Literacy Standards to deliver 50-minute or 25-minute science lessons. Along with the lesson inside the lab, students at Urbana Elementary last week visited stations on dairy, poultry, pollination, soil health, fruit DNA and wool.
Tess Blumenthal, principal at Urbana Elementary praised the mobile labs as “opportunities to connect students to the real world.”
Sharon Fox, a teacher who has traveled with MAEF’s labs for 20 years said a lot about how the lessons are administered has remained consistent over the years but seeing students grasp a new concept and connect it with growing food never gets old.
“I just love to see the excitement on their faces and knowing that there’s something from the farm in their everyday lives,” Fox said between classes visiting the Ag Products mobile lab.
MAEF’s mobile lab program dates back to 1995 with an aquatics-focused exhibit housed in a mobile trailer, developed by Bob Keenan, a retired Baltimore County horticulture teacher. “Today’s labs, which are state of the art, look nothing like the first lab,” said Joe Dymek, retired Howard County agriscience teacher and MAEF president.
A second lab was unveiled in 1997 focusing on Maryland’s agricultural products and a third lab dedicated to biotechnology in agriculture began visiting schools in 2000. It has since been renamed the Food, Fiber and You Lab.
Two Maryland Agriculture Showcase trailers introduced in 2003 and 2017 have also traveled to numerous fairs, festivals and special events in Maryland to promote the state’s farming industry.
Dymek said MAEF’s success with the mobile labs comes from extensive cooperation and support from teachers, administrators, county Farm Bureaus, service organizations and individual donors.
Joe Bartenfelder, Maryland agriculture secretary, presented a Secretary’s Citation to MAEF and said the mobile labs are very helpful in showing youth where food is really grown.
“As a farmer, besides being Secretary of Agriculture, I’ve watched the ag education foundation grow just like crops in the field,” he said. “We applaud your steadfast efforts.”
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