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New York Agriculture in the Classroom


2017 Teacher of the Year

Congratulations to our 2017 NYAITC Teacher of the Year
Maria Plitt!

New York Agriculture in the Classroom (NYAITC) is pleased to announce the selection of Maria Plitt as the 2017 Teacher of the Year. Maria will be representing NYAITC as a model educator who incorporates agriculture as a context for learning in her 3rd through 6th grade STEM classes at Eastport Elementary in Eastport, NY located on Long Island. Maria's students are continuously exposed to agriculture through the extensive use of their school garden as a learning laboratory, which creates a dynamic learning atmosphere. Students are immersed in connections with the outside world, as they even complete their work on a converted tree trunk used as a table, and sit on smaller, painted tree stumps for seats.

Maria's tenure as an educator has spanned twelve years and she started the school garden program over five years ago with a passion for growing food that has now spread to her students. She notes that there is so much excitement on the days where the students get to go out to the garden for lessons, and it is credited to the hands-on nature of Maria's curriculum. Maria structures her garden education by grade level, with each grade having specific tasks and activities. This encourages anticipation in the students for their involvement for the next school year.

Maria's work with her 3rd grade students includes lessons on drying and storing seeds to use for the spring, and pairing basic gardening lessons about food with some of her favorite books such as Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens. As they transition to spring, her students make their own seed tape with a flour and water mixture on paper towels to plant four raised-beds of carrots. As fourth graders, they will have a chance to harvest the carrots. The raised beds offer an excellent opportunity to learn about perimeter and calculating area.

With a focus on Native American influence and Early Americans in 4th grade, students plant a Three Sister's Garden of corn, beans, and squash to communicate the message of interdependent relationships through structural support and complementary nutrients. Students will read stories from this era, and write journal entries as if they were living in that time period. Responsibility is also taken amongst the students to maintain and care for the worm composters through daily maintenance, journaling of changes, and release of the worms into the garden.

Maria's exceptional cross-curricular connections extend past her field of STEM education, as she takes care in incorporating social studies and English language arts (ELA) regularly. As 5th grade students learn about immigration and the potato famine, they learn about and plant potatoes with Maria. From preparing their seed potatoes, planting, and maintaining their crop students have a chance to experience the full range of activities around growing food. This past growing season a potato blight came through the crop, and her students were able to experience what people went through when the potato famine hit Ireland.

Along with raised beds, the schoolyard also has fifteen dwarf apple trees tended by Maria's 6th graders, which lends itself to be a great tool as they learn about pollinators and plant their pollinator garden. The apple trees are an exceptional learning tool as the students have a chance to learn about insects, trimming the trees, and even grafting techniques. Over 75 mammoth sunflowers are planted by this group, towering over twelve feet high, a favorite crop of teachers and students alike. Maria has her students test the soil before and after planting, and math lessons are incorporated by weighing and measuring seeds and plants in a proportions lesson.

Maria Plitt is an incredible example of an innovative and passionate educator who believes in the importance of her students understanding and appreciating our food and fiber systems in their community. She also serves on the Board of Directors for Edible School Gardens, and has hopes of installing a greenhouse at the school in future years. Maria will be awarded an expense paid opportunity to attend the National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference in Kansas City, Missouri in June supported by New York Agriculture in the Classroom. This exceptional professional development opportunity will allow her the chance to meet and learn from educators across the country, and become exposed to even more classroom resources and tools to teach through and about agriculture.

Past Winners