OXFORD >> Many of the first graders at Elk Ridge Elementary School felt right at home in the Mobile Ag Ed Science Lab, having lived much of their young lives in the rural and farming culture of southern Chester County.
The lab, a small classroom encased in a 40-foot trailer and operated by the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, stops by for a week each year to teach the young students about agriculture and involve them in hands-on scientific experiments associated with the subject. The lab is equipped with electricity and water, and comes with certified instructors who present five 50-minute sessions of instruction and activities to classes.
Leigh Ann Courtney, an instructor and administrator of the program, said the several vans that offer the programs for elementary and middle school kids travel all over the state during the school year. She added in the past year they have been to schools 65 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.
“The kids in the cities don’t have much knowledge (about farms and agriculture), but these rural kids know much more. They know the crops and the equipment like tractors,” she said.
Last Friday, Courtney and her volunteer assistant, local former science teacher Roberta McManus, were teaching the classes about planting and growing crops. Starting the session with the children sitting on the floor, Courtney read the a story about how crops produce their vegetables and fruits from the roots, middle and top. She also reviewed the parts of a flower and asked them to think about how all food comes from farms.
When she brought up the subject of cows, the kids were eager to raise their hands and suggest they knew about cheese, milk, cream and yogurt.
Then it was time to do the experiment. This one involved placing a growing material, seeds and water in plastic bags, which the students were invited to take home or to their classroom and watch how the seeds developed into lettuce, radishes or cucumbers over the next week or month.
Along with providing teaching the children about the content and methods of agriculture, the lab was covered with colorful posters suggesting careers in different aspects of farming, animal care, pest management, landscaping and food service.
The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, which sponsors the labs, is a general farm organization made up of members providing legislative support, information, and services to Pennsylvania’s farmers and rural families since 1950.
There are different programs for different age groups, and the week-long sessions are aligned with the Pennsylvania Department of Education academic standards in environment and ecology as well and science and technology.
The aim is to give the students a better understanding of the scientific process, an awareness of agriculture’s importance in their lives and an increased interest in scientific discovery and learning in general.
Schools that host the program pay a fee of $5,000 a week, but are given a discount the first time they participate. The Mobile Ag Ed Science Lab is also sponsored by the Pennsylvania Friends of Agriculture, a charitable organization whose mission is to preserve and promote agriculture.