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Ashland-Greenwood Teacher Named Teacher of the Year for Bringing Agriculture into the Classroom

LINCOLN, NE – The Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation has selected Diane Starns for the 2022 Nebraska Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher of the Year honor. The Teacher of the Year is awarded to outstanding teachers that incorporate agriculture into their classroom through innovative ideas and lessons.

“The Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation is pleased to honor Diane Starns for her dedication to integrating agriculture into core classroom learning,” said Courtney Shreve, director of outreach education. “Diane gives more than asked and is a dedicated teacher who incorporates year-long learning with Nebraska Agriculture in the Classroom to help students understand the vital message that agriculture is their source of food, fiber, and fuel.”

Starns, a kindergarten teacher at Ashland-Greenwood Elementary, has been an educator for 24 years. Thirteen years ago, she received a flyer from Nebraska Agriculture in the Classroom about becoming involved with the Ag Pen Pal Program. She has now had the same pen pal for the past 13 years.

“Our Pen Pal’s letters were informative and appropriate for my kindergarteners. She would send us field corn, popcorn, soybean plants, and snacks containing a byproduct from corn and soybeans that she highlighted on the packaging!  Her letters were detailed about what was taking place on their farm at that time of the year,” said Starns. “It was easy to see that my students were very interested in what takes place on the farm, not only with animals but also with crops.  Not only did this cover science but also health, math, and literacy too!  We would write three to four friendly letters back to her sharing what we were doing in the classroom!”

Starns has used the lesson plans designed by the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation. One of Starns’ favorite lessons is Farming in a Glove. This activity has each group of students create a small “farm” where they can see different seeds germinate. The “farm” is a clear plastic glove with a cotton ball in each of the fingers. A seed is placed on the moist cotton ball. To conduct the investigation, each group hangs one glove in the window and a second glove in a dark room or drawer. The students then monitor the gloves and record observations in a science journal. 

“When the two weeks for the lesson concluded, the kids got to take the glove home and share it with their parents. They showed their parents how the seeds sprouted, and the roots were growing,” said Starns.  “Then in July, two parents sent me pictures of their kids with their plant grown from one of the seeds from this lesson! I was THRILLED!”

Starns 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 28 – July 1, 2022 in Saratoga Springs, NY, 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.

‘Thirteen years ago, I was sparked by the Ag Pen Pal Program, and now my students are benefitting from all the Nebraska Agriculture in the Classroom agricultural lessons I am incorporating throughout the school year,” said Starns. “I look forward to attending the national conference this year!”

The mission of the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation is to engage youth, educators, and the general public to promote an understanding of the vital importance of agriculture in the lives of all Nebraskans. The Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. For more information about the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation, visit www.nefbfoundation.org

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