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Teach Your Children Well

by Scott Yates
Wheat Life, March 2009

Educating the next generation about ag in Washington

Salmon in the Classroom produces winning art in the fifth grade (2008), sponsored by Washington Wheat Commission. Twenty years ago agricultural advocates were in a dither over the lack of opportunities to educate young people about the world's most important industry. It took a while, but people heard the message, saw the need and responded. Today, there are more than a dozen organizations in Washington offering agriculture and natural resource educational opportunities. The Washington Wheat Commission (WWC) funds four of them at various levels.

The Franklin Conservation District is the latest and best-funded group to enter the ag education field. With $125,000 from WWC, the district has leveraged another $75,000 to fund different programs with an ag orientation including Wheat Week, Water on Wheels, Salmon in the Classroom and teacher training workshops.

Chris Herron, a Franklin county wheat grower and conservation district board member, has been a vocal backer of his district's efforts. It's not just education about agriculture that's important, it's also the knowledge young people gain about the river system.

"This is an investment to ensure dams remain on the Snake and Columbia Rivers," he said, adding that one measurement of the program's long-term success is "if the barges stay in the river and the grain goes through."

In one of the conservation district's more inventive programs, fully-equipped aquariums are donated to schools in order that students can see salmon evolve from egg to alevin to the fingerling stage. Throughout the year, educators come to the school to talk abut salmon and the efforts being taken to ensure their survival. The season culminates with a field trip to a riverside park where each student releases fingerlings into the water.

Kara Kaelber, education and outreach specialist for the Franklin Conservation District, said unlike other ag education programs, hers doesn't depend wholly on the classroom teacher. Instructors who are hand-picked and well-versed in the details of the lesson plan actually take over the classroom.

Teachers are thrilled with the effort not just because it gives them a break, but also how well the curriculum meshes with the educational requirements mandated by the state.

"Wheat Week and Water on Wheels have both been totally created with teachers in mind and what they need to teach," Kaelber said, adding the philosophy extends to instructional workshops where teachers learn directly how the river system supports agriculture, salmon and the economy.


Related Pages:
'Pesticide Cocktails' Make a Deadly Synergy for Salmon by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin, 3/6/9

Scott Yates
Teach Your Children Well
Wheat Life, March 2009

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