The program promotes not just reading literacy, but also agricultural know-how for students.

STAFF PHOTO: CHRIS OERTELL - Fourth grade students at McKinney work together in table groups playing a card game about what it takes to maintain apple trees.A new local program provides teachers with the curriculum and supplies to give a non-traditional lesson to their students.

The Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation had its pilot event in Washington County on Tuesday, March 20, at W. Verne McKinney Elementary School in Hillsboro. An effort to incorporate lessons on agriculture in the curriculum, the foundation's "Agricultural Literacy Project" used several fourth-grade classrooms as a model for what it hopes to achieve at Oregon schools.

The foundation "provides free curriculum, resources and training to K-12 teachers. The program promotes using agriculture to teach science, math, history and nutrition across existing curriculum," its website states.

With McKinney already being a STEM school — many of its lessons focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics — integrating this curriculum seemed fitting, said Washington County programs coordinator Kassia Rudd.

The AITC Foundation recently received a grant from the Oregon Department of Education for just under $50,000, which is being used for supplies to integrate agriculture across the curriculum, hire a school garden coordinator and hire an after school coordinator to help reestablish the school garden to be used as a teaching space, Rudd said. The positions have recently been filled at McKinney, and the foundation is hoping the school will serve as a model for other schools in Washington County, Rudd said.

On Thursday, a volunteer and local farmer, Debi Lorence, started by reading "Apples to Oregon" to the students. The two classes then participated in an activity where they made agricultural decisions about their own "gardens" in table groups, with the goal of protecting their "apple trees." The lesson ended with some dried apple chips donated by Sisters Fruit Company in Cornelius.

The mission of AITC is "to equip young Oregonians with the knowledge that they need to make choices about the agricultural system and natural resources, so that we can really act sustainably now and in the future," Rudd said.

The goal of the literacy project is to inspire students in both reading and agricultural literacy, said Jessica Jansen, executive director of AITC. It was also formed to help connect volunteers with their community, especially volunteers within the agricultural community, Jansen said.STAFF PHOTO: CHRIS OERTELL - Jessica Jansen and Kassia Rudd from the Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation hand out dried apple slices to fourth grade students during the event.

The organization assists teachers who want to implement agriculture curriculum by providing various supplies free of cost. The materials include lesson plans and a "lending library" with agriculture-themed books.

"We are just really excited about working in Washington County schools, and the opportunity we have for growth here is tremendous," Jansen said. "We are really excited about using this as a model for what we can do in schools and help really support the work of schools in this effort."

AITC encourages all classrooms to sign up to participate, and all community members are welcome and encouraged to volunteer with the program.

By Olivia Singer
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Follow Olivia at @oliviasingerr
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