Task force eyes ensuring ag would be taught in Md.

Managing Editor

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (June 23, 2015) — A task force established in the 2012 Maryland legislature charged with exploring ways to integrate “the subject of agriculture into all existing curricular areas” of elementary, middle and high school completed a report last month which was issued to state legislators.
The task now, according to task force chairman George Mayo, executive director of the Maryland Agriculture Education Foundation, is to advocate for further action and not let the report fade away with lawmakers.
“We’re trying to get the word out there. “We don’t want this to sit on a shelf and collect dust,” Mayo said last week.
The 24-member task force with representation from several state farming organizations, the University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and state departments of agriculture and education developed four recommendations in the report for students, educators, elementary and middle school programs and high school programs.
For students, the task force recommended establishing a free, online interactive venue with resources and activities “that showcase the over 200 career opportunities” in the agriculture industry.
“A broadened understanding of what agriculture includes and the career opportunities available is critical to engage students,” the report said. “This searchable venue, featuring lectures and interactive videos would be available 24/7 for use by students in classes or outside of the school day based on interest or as assigned by teachers.”
Mayo said the National Ag in the Classroom program is now building a similar venue and there are versions for other subjects but not agriculture.
“It’s about accessibility,” Mayo said. “Agriculture is so broad, you could use it to teach anything.”
The task force also recommended creating a similar tool for educators to find learning resources aligned with Maryland’s content standards, a rubric to evaluate the resources and show how they can be used in existing curriculum.
“There is a need for a single repository of resources for educators including mini-lectures, lesson plans, classroom activities, fact sheets, hands-on lab experimentation, webinars as well as research and development materials,” the report said.
The other two recommendations focused on expanding the pipeline to get more students into agricultural careers from elementary school through high school.
For elementary and middle school, the task force recommended a wider use of two existing programs, MAEF’s Ag in the Classroom and University of Maryland Extension’s AGsploration: The Science of Maryland Agriculture and replicating agriculture programs that exist in elementary schools like Urbana Elementary School in Frederick County and Hereford Middle School in Baltimore County.
“As most teachers have little to no personal experience in this field, it is critical to make these programs more accessible to them through technology,” the report said.
For high school students, the task force would like to see more encouragement and adoption of existing state-approved agriculture programs like the Curriculum for Agriculture Sciences Education and the Certified Professional Horticulturalist program that lead to post secondary credit and increased college readiness.
Mayo said these programs’ curriculum can be easily incorporated into non-agricultural classes along with building new ag courses at schools.
Another big step would be to get existing ag courses to be counted as science credits on transcripts.
That would attract more students to the ag classes, Mayo said, and create more interest in agricultural careers.
“It there’s a way to make that happen, that would be huge,” he said.
The legislation in 2012 by Del. Sandy Rosenberg establishing the task force is part of what Mayo called “the stars aligning in many ways regarding agriculture’s importance in education.”
In 2010, Maryland created an environmental literacy requirement for high school graduation which encourages more school gardens and field trips to farms. A growing urban agriculture movement and sustained preferences in buying locally grown products have more youth and parents interested in how food is grown.
A USDA report last month said the nation’s agricultural businesses are generating about 60,000 agricultural jobs a year and the nation’s universities are only graduating 35,000 students with the necessary agricultural degrees to fill the jobs, creating a huge employment gap and showing the need for more middle and high school students to consider agricultural careers.
The USDA report said 30 percent of these jobs will be in the so-called STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — fields.
Those are some of the messages Mayo and other task force members will be spreading to state legislators and state farm and education groups to spur action.
“If they pay attention to it, It will be very helpful,” Mayo said of legislators acting on the task force’s report. “It’s not like it’s a huge investment to incorporate these lessons into other areas of study,” Mayo said. “It’s just missing endorsement. So if there’s pressure from the community, that’s important.”