Middle school students learn about industry with hands-on activities
CENTREVILLE, Md. — Peter Arnold knows there are some parts of school kids find boring.
Growing up and working on his family’s Arnold Farms in Chestertown, Arnold, 16, knows plenty about farming to share with kids too.
So as a volunteer for Queen Anne’s County’s Ag Awareness Day which brought the county’s seventh grade classes to the 4-H park for agricultural activities and education, he said he wanted to make his station on planting vegetable seeds and plants fun and informative.
“I try to make it enjoyable for them, I do believe they learn better when they’re happy,” Arnold said while groups from Sudlersville Middle School and Centreville Middle School shifted from station to station on May 30.
Arnold was among about 120 volunteers from throughout the agricultural community who helped with the two-day event, now in its second year.
Students from the county’s four middle schools, about 575 over the two days, rotated among five stations, spending close to an hour at each stop, learning about the technology used in farming, animal agriculture, plant science and production methods, aquaculture and the possible career paths in agriculture.
The curriculum for the stations was developed in line with the school system’s science standards for the grade level. Each station had hands-on activities for the students and time for questions with experts in that field.
As with last year, students were surveyed on their agriculture knowledge before and after their visit to see what information was retained.
Jenny Rhodes, Queen Anne’s County Extension agriculture and natural resources agent, said comparing the two surveys form last year’s event, many students said they learned more about hormone use in food animals, distinguishing between organic and conventionally-grown food and that farmers are now using much less inputs to grow crops that years ago.
“I was very encouraged about what they learned,” Rhodes said.
Event organizers said they sought out to reach seventh graders as that’s a key point in the students’ decision making about their career paths.
“If agriculture interests them, we want to let them know about everything that’s out there for them,” said Jessica Clarke, who coordinated the event’s volunteers and led the station on animal agriculture. “If they want to choose an ag career path, this is when they would start thinking about it.”
David Wilson, who teaches world history at Sudlersville Middle School said the event is a great way to show students real jobs that involve subjects they like.
“They really engage the kids to see what they might like,” Wilson said. “This at least gives them a platform, gives them exposure to answer that question of ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ If you don’t present that opportunity, they won’t know it’s out there.”
With an idea for a career, Wilson said it can be a good motivator back in the classroom.
“They want to see the tangible and know why am I doing this,” He said. “It allows you to make that connection. You’ll inspire them to do better in school because they’ll know they’re working toward something, toward a goal.”
While jobs in agriculture was an overarching theme of the event, a new station this year called “My Future” focused on ag careers and the opportunities through FFA.
Members of the FFA chapter at Queen Anne’s County High School talked with the youth about what FFA is and how it could help them decide on and pursue the job they want.
“Hopefully they’re taking what they’re seeing here today and going into high school and thinking about FFA as an option,” said Jen Gannon, chapter past-president. “Maybe they don’t want to be a farmer but now they see all these careers that are part of the industry.”
The station also included ice breaker activities to “get them out of their comfort zone a little” said Melyn Rhodes, Queen Anne’s FFA vice president.
Developing those types of social skills is also a component of FFA that she said a lot of kids don’t realize.
“It’s definitely helped my communication skills,” she said. “My first year I was quiet and shy and never thought I’d be able to stand in front of all these people and talk.”
Back at “The Green Stuff” station where Arnold explained how his farm’s vegetable transplanter worked and helping students plant a vegetable seed to take home and try to grow themselves, he said he’s already got some ideas for the next Ag Awareness Day on how to engage the kids more.
“I really enjoy this. It’s really great to see their faces light up,” he said. “Really the goal is to inform them and make it fun. It’s important to make it enjoyable. It kind of opens up their eyes.”
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