Getting Schooled In Ag

By Jessica Walker Boehm, farmflavor.com

Students across Kentucky are learning more about agriculture, thanks in large part to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Mobile Science Activity Centers, which are trailers with 10 interactive stations that visit schools throughout the Commonwealth. In addition to serving as hands-on educational tools, the trailer’s stations provide fun, out-of-the-classroom experiences that can also introduce students to possible careers in agriculture.

“Every activity we do on the trailer aligns with the science- related core content students are being taught in the classroom,” says Jason Hodge, MSAC program coordinator in western Kentucky. “However, each activity has some type of agricultural tie. This is basically an educational field trip that comes directly to schools, and it’s affordable, so it’s become very popular.”

Helping Kids Cruise Into Ag

Courtesy of Kentucky Department of Agriculture

Courtesy of Kentucky Department of Agriculture

It’s easy to see why the MSAC trailers are such a big hit. Each of the interactive stations offers an activity or investigation for students to complete, and most of them result in something tangible for them to take home. For example, one station involves students making ice cream in a bag, while another gives students the necessary tools to create biodegradable corn plastic that they can turn into a bouncing ball.

The MSAC trailers’ high-tech components also engage students. Each station includes an iPad, and each trailer contains a 70-inch LED monitor and an all-in-one touch-screen desktop computer. Teachers are also encouraged to participate; there’s an additional station for them, complete with an iPad, so they can easily follow along with each activity.

In eastern Kentucky, a slightly smaller MSAC trailer hit the road in March 2016, designed to better handle the area’s challenging terrain. According to Matthew Hayes, the region’s MSAC program coordinator, he’s now able to access schools he wasn’t able to reach with a larger, bulkier trailer. As a result, more than 12,000 eastern Kentucky students are being exposed to agriculture and growing more aware of the many career possibilities it offers.

“There are a lot of wonderful opportunities in agriculture in eastern Kentucky, and we hope the MSAC program will bring light to that and encourage students to consider a career in agriculture in the future,” says Jennifer Elwell, executive director of Kentucky Agriculture & Environment in the Classroom (KyAEC). Although the MSAC trailers’ stations are targeted to fourth and fifth graders, they’re also appropriate for several other grade levels. Schools can reserve a trailer for $200 per day, or $500 for a three-day maximum.

A Thriving Alliance

Courtesy of Kentucky Department of Agriculture

Courtesy of Kentucky Department of Agriculture

KyAEC is also introducing the Commonwealth’s children to agriculture through a partnership with the Kentucky Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs. That partnership is resulting in ag-focused functions across the state, such as a daylong event called Agriculture Adventures Kentucky that KyAEC hosted for several Boys & Girls Clubs in June and July of 2016. The events, made possible by grants from the Kentucky Small Grain Growers’ Association and the Kentucky Beef Council, included high-energy shows, learning sessions, hands-on activities, and more.

“As more and more people are removed from the farm by several generations, they are starting to become more interested in where their food comes from,” Elwell says. “We want to make sure they understand what happens on the farm instead of making assumptions, so we see agricultural education as a huge opportunity. Also, one of our goals is to encourage young children to consider agriculture as a career option. We want to grow agriculture in Kentucky by encouraging more people to be involved.”