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New York Agriculture in the Classroom


2018 Teacher of the Year

Congratulations to our 2018 NYAITC Teacher of the Year
in the middle school division, Christina Cassel!
Christina Cassel

New York Agriculture in the Classroom (NYAITC) is pleased to announce the selection of Christina Cassel as one of our 2018 Teachers of the Year. Christina will be representing NYAITC as a model educator who incorporates agriculture as a context for learning in her eighth grade Home and Careers classroom at Southampton Intermediate School. Christina's students have learned that food is more than just something you eat and have been able to find their own connections to agriculture and food.

Christina grew up on the East end of Long Island where agriculture has always been an influential part of her life. Her parents, as dairy and poultry farmers, instilled a love for agriculture in her and taught her the importance of food systems. She went on to study Food Service Management and started as the leave replacement Home and Careers 8th grade teacher at Southampton Intermediate School almost three years ago.

As a culinary instructor, Christina made it her goal to support, motivate and bring meaningful learning to students to understand not just what food is, but the vitality behind it as in where it comes from, why it grows a certain way, and how is it best prepared. She is a vast believer in supporting organic and local foods and supporting sustainably through food and shopping habits, therefore, in her classroom, the curriculum revolves around this to support the movement of "farm to table."

Christina's curriculum extends beyond the classroom with a school garden where students grow produce that they then bring into the kitchen to cook and study. In like manner, to expand their knowledge, students must have the opportunity to visit local farmers and artisans. Her philosophy is that students learn best when their learning can be connected to the real world. Christina mentors students to be lifelong learners with practical, hands-on activities that develop a deeper understanding for students that will be embedded into their daily lives and future.

Part of her curriculum includes students caring for a tower garden in her classroom. The tower garden is a newer agricultural aquaponics structure that grows inside the classroom with grow lights, which is self-watered. The students are in the midst of growing basil, arugula, lettuce, rainbow chard, and bok choy, which will be integrated into the upcoming nutrition unit.

One exemplary lesson the students were involved in was connected to the long island cheese pumpkin. The students in her school's garden club that she advises were able to grow the long island cheese pumpkin. This past fall the students harvested the pumpkins, which were then roasted. The meat of the pumpkin was then pureed and the seeds were baked. Once pureed the students were able to bake pumpkin muffins with the fresh pumpkin, as well as with local eggs. After the muffins were all baked, the students analyzed the muffins with a sensory analysis worksheet, examining the appearance, taste, texture, and aroma that included a section to broaden their food description vocabulary. The students then continued on in the lesson to read the "Long Island Cheese Pumpkin" article from Slow Food USA the Ark of Taste collection. The students analyzed the text, cited the textual evidence, and determined their personal reaction, which included the most interesting fact or facts they encountered, questions they may still have, and what they would like to learn more about.

Through the year "farm to table" movement within the curriculum, the students are able to have an overall enhanced academic ambiance to improve their competence in Math, History, English, and Science, life skills, as well as in their social manners and self-awareness manners. Equally important, the students are also able to develop their overall eating habits when trying new foods and when learning about new healthier food options for all the seasons that occur in the northeast.

Christina said of her classroom experience, "The students reactions of how much they enjoy learning about the importance of local sustainability throughout the curriculum in so many areas of studies, is motivating for myself and for others to keep on sprouting our knowledge of the "farm to table" world, which has so much to offer".

Christina Cassel is an amazing example of a pioneering and passionate educator who believes in the importance of her students understanding and appreciating our food and fiber systems in their community. Christina will be awarded an expense paid opportunity to attend the National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference in Portland, Maine 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