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New York Agriculture in the Classroom


2019 Teacher of the Year

Congratulations to our 2019 NYAITC Teacher of the Year
in the English for Speakers of Other Languages division, Cheryl Starace!
Cheryl Starace

New York Agriculture in the Classroom (NYAITC) is pleased to announce the selection of Cheryl Starace as one of our 2019 Teachers of the Year. Cheryl will be representing NYAITC as a model educator who incorporates agriculture as a context for learning in her Kindergarten-fifth grade English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classrooms at Pound Ridge Elementary School in Pound Ridge, New York. Cheryl's "out of the box" teaching methods focus on impacting her students and expanding their world view through real-world applications.

Cheryl's tenure as an educator has spanned 20 years and a couple countries. Cheryl first got involved with integrating agricultural concepts into her curriculum by participating in Agricultural Literacy Week as the first teacher to participate in her district. This experience sparked her interest and led her to explore more ways in which she could incorporate learning through a lens of agriculture.

This past year, Cheryl organized the Bit of Heaven Farm Horsemanship Project for her students. As an ESOL teacher, Cheryl wanted to develop a program utilizing elements of agriculture that would reach her core students. English Language Learners (ELL's) account for 13% of her district, and the harsh reality is that this is a group of disenfranchised youth who are constantly battling an ever-increasing achievement gap.

The program kicked off in the classroom after several months of planning. The program would center around a trip to Bit of Heaven Farm where students would have a unique group experience interacting with horses. Cheryl designed several pre-teaching activities, all put together in order to address the various needs of the ELL students; encompassing social, emotional, and academic goals. Students learned about safety through control of their emotions, as well as basic farm rules. To address the need to develop their linguistic skills, new subject specific vocabulary was taught, including specific grooming tools and body parts. Cheryl also created a slide show outlining basic horse communication. During the actual trip, students received a follow up safety lesson, explored herd hierarchy, discovered the practical hands on application of the grooming tools and labeling of body parts, worked one on one with horses to learn how their body language enacted change in their horse, measured feed for individual horses, and even got to play soccer with one of the horses.

Upon return from the trip, the students all wrote an opinion piece on the value of the trip. They also put together a PowerPoint presentation outlining their experience that they presented to the rest of their peers in the larger class. Following the trip, there was great feedback from the youth as well as other faculty and Cheryl set out to broaden the scope to a larger audience.

Planning for the second round of students commenced as the school principal expressed encouragement and support of bringing such programming to an entire grade. In this second round, which took place in mid-November of this year, all of the third-grade classes participated and several enhancements were made to the program. First, to address a wider range in agriculture and incorporate food systems, a second farm was added to the trip. Students split their day between the horse farm and Stormfield Swiss, a dairy farm that is part of the Hudson Valley Fresh cooperative.

At the horse farm, specific stations were designed to complement the academic goals of the third grade. Centered around a non-fiction writing unit, students collected information to write a non-fiction piece. A rotation through various stations was designed where students weighed and measured various feeds and measured the horses, compared hay samples using a rubric, and learned about various body markings and colors. To build teamwork skills, the students designed a course through various obstacles, selecting the gait at which the horse would move to complete each obstacle they select, and then they rated how they thought the horse completed their course. They also learned about vital signs and internal anatomy as they listened for heart rate through a stethoscope. Lastly, groups groomed the horses using the various tools which were all taught earlier in the classroom.

Following the visit to the horse farm, students traveled to Stormfield Swiss where they traced the product from "cow to shelf" as they toured the facility and learned about the process. The visit concluded with a tasting before they headed back to school. Similar to the first farm visit, students spent time in class after the trip completing their very own non-fiction book where the topic was focused around what they learned about topics of their choice.

Cheryl has spent approximately 20 hours just this year with the students utilizing the farm experiences as a platform built directly into the third-grade curriculum. Not only is she effectively implementing valuable hands-on experiential learning, but she is exposing a group of youth to an industry that they may otherwise be fully unaware of. At this time, there have already been discussions to continue to carry this program out with more elementary age groups and to create additional programs for middle and high school age groups that would be focused on expanding their knowledge of agriculture, as well as helping them plan for college and career building.

The impact of opportunities like these is best said by one of the first group participants; "I learned so much but it didn't feel like learning usually feels. Learning is usually hard and boring." - Jason S. Providing the shared experience, in a welcome environment, with an extensive amount of carefully crafted time in class encourages these students to explore something they have become fairly removed from, especially in their suburban county. Cheryl has done an exemplary job working with industry professionals to mold a program that not only fits the needs of the children, but integrates seamlessly into their academic goals.

Cheryl Starace is an outstanding 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. Cheryl will be awarded an expense paid opportunity to attend the National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference in Little Rock, Arkansas 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