Growing Rural Education: Through the Eyes of the Educators

People use math and science on a daily basis, from managing budgets to cooking in the kitchen.

These subjects are also the foundation of innovative technology that leads to products that help feed a growing population and connect the world. In order to meet the challenges facing the world, including hunger, and to do so in a sustainable way, today’s schools and students will need to be equipped like never before.

America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education, sponsored by the Monsanto Fund, provides farmers with the opportunity to support their local communities by nominating rural public school districts for the opportunity to apply for a grant of $10,000 or $25,000 to enhance math and science education.

In 2013, more than 73,000 farmers nominated their rural school districts. With farmer support, the winning school districts were able to make improvements in the following areas: Technology; Greenhouses/Outdoor Classrooms; Teacher and Curriculum Development; and Scientific Lab Advancements.



The Need for Grants & Resources for Public Rural School Districts

The response from teachers of the winning school districts has been overwhelmingly positive. With the need to find resources for funding, many faculty members have expressed their gratitude for the grants.

“It is nice to have these grants available since funding for rural schools is cut year after year,” said Amy Manker, an Illinois high school science teacher.

“We are really battling to keep funding in place in rural schools,” said Emma Jaccarino, a Missouri school district technology coordinator. “Grants help us maintain our school and keep it open, avoiding consolidation where we’d risk losing our local identity.” Not only has America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education resulted in additional funding, but it has helped teachers maximize the use of their resources.

“One of the biggest benefits was being able to pull together all of the resources we already had and put them in a place that everyone could find easily,” said Jill Coe, an Illinois elementary teacher. “Instead of having to ask another teacher to borrow microscopes, we now have a dedicated science room. I now have access to all of the things I didn’t have before.”

“We are a small school, so we are always looking for ways that we can help one another,” said Melanie Utterback, a Missouri middle and high school science teacher. “The grow carts, probes and cameras can be used to enhance both the biology curriculum and the agriculture curriculum.”

The Rise of Technology and Putting Curriculum into Context through Hands-On Application

Science and math teachers recognize the importance of technology and how pertinent their efforts are to help students make those connections in their daily lives.

“We try to get technology in our students’ hands because that is the world we live in today,” said Utterback. “Kids are preparing for jobs, and some of the technology they’ll use is not even here yet.”

“It is sometimes hard for kids to see the connections, and that is why these projects are so important,” said Jaccarino. “We are incorporating objects from outside, such as corn and pumpkin seeds—things that they can relate to—and, then we put them into context by demonstrating how those materials relate to math and science.”

The America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education grants have helped support math and science curriculum for some winners by providing funding needed to purchase supplies that enhance engagement.

“The kids can participate in hands-on activities now, such as building a greenhouse,” said Manker. “The kids came out to help with the project on Saturdays, and it really brought the community together.”

“If you put a device in a kid’s hand to accompany the project, it creates a better learning experience, a deeper understanding, and the student is more engaged,” said Utterback. “We improved one of the labs with the use of the probes we purchased to examine enzyme activity. Before, the kids performed the experiment and watched for signs of a reaction. Now, in addition to seeing the reaction, they also record the values as they rise on the oxygen and temperature probes. This equipment elevates the experience for them.”

The Ripple Effect

The hands-on learning experiences have created a ripple effect of positive outcomes. Teachers have found that the students’ comprehension seems to have boosted confidence, and they have seen an increased interest in their subjects.

“When I first started, the kids seemed to have the mentality that they don’t get nice equipment, and they only get the hand-me-downs,” said Manker. “I think the grant boosted morale at the school. The kids were really excited.

“Also, many kids only need three years of science in high school. Now, I have kids doubling up on science classes in one year. I also have seniors that are not required to take any additional science classes, but they are taking one anyway.”

In addition, teachers who have worked to increase engagement with these new tools and activities have reported an improvement in test scores.

“In our state, biology is a course that requires students to take an end-of-course exam,” said Utterback. “Our Biology I end-of-course proficient and advanced percentage went from 47 percent in the spring and increased to 85 percent the following spring. I’m very excited and proud of our students.”

And, best of all, the efforts by these amazing teachers to secure funding and provide their students with new and better learning experiences has not gone unnoticed.

“The first class that walked in the new science room, sat down and looked around in awe of everything,” said Coe. “The neighboring teacher came across the hall to my room and asked me to come over. When we got back to the science room, she said, ‘Do for Mrs. Coe what you just did for me.’ And, they all started clapping.”

Connect and Nominate!

From January 6, 2014, through April 6, 2014, farmers will have the opportunity to nominate their public school district again by filling out the nomination form at GrowRuralEducation.com.

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