Barb and I have been Ag Pen Pals with a classroom of Lincoln students for many years. We have had several teachers from several different schools over the years, but have generally had 1st, 2nd or 3rd grade students to write to.
First graders are a little difficult to write for because you know they don't have the language or math skills yet to comprehend much about farming. But they do enjoy talking about our animals. They are always amazed that farmers don't name every animal on the place, but when faced with a picture of 1,200 steers, they admit that would be hard to keep straight. We always loved the pictures they made for us to start the year.
Some of the schools we have written to are in areas of Lincoln with a high immigrant population. Not just Hispanics either, as one school had 25 different native languages represented in the student population. Many different backgrounds made our job a lot of fun, as usually one student in the group had been on a farm at some time.
When possible we schedule a visit with our classroom when we are in Lincoln for one of our many meetings there. That is where the real fun happens. Our students have spread the word through the school that we are coming, so when we show up everybody knows why we are there.
The current teacher we work with is a real gem. She has her students totally under control. They are learning manners, as well as numbers and letters. As an example, this year when we visited we were escorted to their room by two of the students who very politely asked us to follow them. When we got to their room another boy got up and asked us for our coats to hang them up and then escorted us to our seats of honor in the front of the room, all without any prompting from the teacher who was working with another student.
This class is a 3rd grade class and as you might expect is a little more fluent, but we were not ready for the level of questioning we got. The very first question was, "What is your favorite crop to harvest and why?" Another difficult question to answer was "What is alfalfa?" It is hard to describe without visual aids, and we had not brought any alfalfa pictures with us. At least several students had horses and knew what hay was so that helped. One bright young man noticed I am short one finger and asked about that. And so on.
We always try to bring a gift or memento for the students and one popular and easy to come by gift are farm caps. It took no time at all to locate 35 extra caps around the house, which were boxed and delivered to the classroom. While our class didn't have 35 students, we brought extras so the students could have a choice. You never know when they have a grandparent or aunt or uncle still on the farm and have already taken sides in the red-green controversy or someone in the family has an affinity for one seed corn brand or another.
When the 40 minutes that we were allotted had passed they sang a little song thanking us for coming to visit. How sweet. There is a good chance we'll get back one more time this year and one can only guess what questions they'll be able to come up with.
This is all part of the Ag Pen Pal Program, which in Nebraska is coordinated through the Ag in the Classroom program. If you are a farm family or a retired farm family and have time to write just three letters during the school year, you too could be an Ag Pen Pal. The program is always looking for more volunteers and will start you out with a class next fall. Just look up Ag in the Classroom on the internet and you can be connected or contact your local county Farm Bureau for more information.
If you are a teacher that would like to add this to your curriculum options let me know and I'll get you in contact with the right people. If you are a Nebraska teacher, you don't have to have a class in Lincoln or Omaha to be connected with an Ag Pen Pal. Any teacher in any classroom in the state may request a Pen Pal as we realize the need is just as great for ag education in rural areas as well. If you are reading this and live outside Nebraska many states have similar programs that we can put you in contact with.