Bibb elementary school to pilot new agriculture curriculum

Musical rain catchers, hydroponic vegetable rigs and sensory gardens are among projects planned for new agriculture classes offered at a Bibb County elementary school this fall.

Heard Elementary is among 20 elementary schools statewide chosen to pilot a new agriculture curriculum.

Carol Dunn, the school’s new agriculture teacher, said she wants her students to understand where their food comes from.

“A lot of (students) come from subdivisions and complexes and don’t have any kind of ag,” Dunn said. “From what I can tell from around here, these kids are anywhere from three to five generations removed from a family farm.”

Dunn grew up on a family farm in Obion, Tennessee, where she helped raise pigs and cows, drove tractors and hauled corn into town for extra cash in the summer.

As an adult, Dunn worked for Tyson Foods in Union City, Tennessee. She moved to Houston County after getting promoted to a Tyson facility in Vienna, Georgia. She worked for more than a decade at Perdue Farms in Perry, where she “ran the day shift Chick-fil-A department” oversaw the production of about 1.3 million pounds of chicken weekly.

Though this will be her first teaching job, she has experience volunteering with Future Farmers of America to advocate for agriculture career paths in Houston County schools.

Agriculture is a subject that “ties into every single thing you teach,” she said. “I can get it into math, science, reading and history.”

Dunn said she hopes to apply for grant money to get a greenhouse and, eventually, an indoor beehive for the school.

Heard Elementary Principal Carole H. Coté said the school applied to the state to be one of the elementary schools to offer the pilot agriculture curriculum.

“It just seemed like a natural fit,” Coté said. “Heard used to have a showcase flower garden that people from around the state would come and see.”

Crawford County Elementary school also was picked to pilot the agriculture curriculum.

Most students who attend Heard Elementary go on to attend Rutland middle and high schools. Both of those schools have two agriculture teachers each.

At Rutland Middle School, there are two beehives, one in the library and one outdoors, four drones for students to practice flying, hydroponic vegetable gardens and visiting cattle.

Come August, work will start on a huge wildflower garden in front of the middle and high schools on Skipper Road. The flower garden, expected to bloom in spring 2020, will allow students to help with a study focused on the migration of the monarch butterfly, which has over the past few decades declined dramatically in population.

“We’ll be able to study migration patterns of monarch butterflies in relation with a grant that UGA Tifton has gotten,” Andy Reeves, agriculture teacher at Rutland Middle School, said. “Our students will be gathering information, putting it into their database and they’ll be doing a big research project about migration patterns.”

Rutland Middle School Principal Keith Groeper said the school is on its way to becoming an agriculture STEM-certified school, meaning the Georgia Department of Education would recognize it as a school focused on science, technology, engineering and math involved in agriculture.

Today’s farmers must be able to plot farmland and acreage, fly drones and plot GPS points among other technical skills, he said.

“It’s no longer two farmers fighting over what’s the best cow at an auction,” Groeper said. “It’s now there’s science on which actually is the best cow at the market.”

Laura Corley covers education news for The Telegraph, where she advocates for government transparency and writes about issues affecting today’s youth. She grew up in Middle Georgia and graduated from Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism.