Reaching for Agriculture’s ‘Summit’

Ag Institute Alumni Inspires School’s New Ag Mission

Two years ago, Summit Elementary School teacher Angela Eyth came home from Educator’s Ag Institute with a new mission for her classroom – connect her students to agriculture. Starting this fall, Summit Elementary will expand her mission to all students.

“Just think, this all started from my attending Ag Institute,” Eyth said in a recent online interview. Educator’s Ag Institute, a Pennsylvania Friends of Agriculture Foundation donor-supported program, helps educators learn how to incorporate lessons about agriculture into their classrooms. During the conference, there was a point Eyth became overwhelmed at the concept of building agriculture themes into her curriculum, but suddenly “I had a sense of calm come over me. I was not alone, there were all of these people and organizations ready to help.”

Eyth went to work preparing for the 2019-2020 school year. She revamped lesson plans. She pulled in local farmers, Extension educators, and others to extend the experience with classroom visits. Her class adopted a calf, learned how to spin wool, built bluebird houses, and, together, pondered how they would improve a historical piece of farm equipment. Her classroom and hallway walls highlighted different agricultural themes. She developed an after-school agriculture program for interested students.

A curious buzz began to swirl around her unconventional projects. Butler Area School District administration staff began to inquire about her efforts. As the conversations continued, Assistant Superintendent Brian Slamecka and Student Engagement Coach Dave Andrews asked how she would expand her efforts. Eyth pointed to the school property. With about 16 acres, she said there was so much untapped potential to expand the educational experience for students – an outdoor classroom, pollinator garden, and a school garden were just a couple of ideas she quickly shared. She began to wonder, what were they planning?

In a later meeting, Andrews and Slamecka told Eyth the administration would like to take Summit Elementary to the next level. Their new goal is to develop a school experience committed to exposing students to agriculture, conservation, and environmental education through a community partnership.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think that they would go all in and then to make it this community partnership,” Eyth said.

The school-wide program is called CAPS, or Community Agricultural Partnership at Summit. The goal of this program is to go beyond the books to cultivate lifelong learners and informed citizens with respect and appreciation for conservation, agriculture, and the outdoor environment, according to the program’s mission statement. The school has established an advisory committee to create partnerships between the school and its community. The program was announced in February and approved by the school board in March.

The community will be a key piece of this effort, Eyth said. Several of these connections began after she returned home from Educator’s Ag Institute and was asked to speak at the 2019 Butler County Farm Bureau fall meeting.

“I had a line of people waiting to talk to me to offer their help. Anything that you need, we’re ready. Here’s my card. Here’s this. Here’s that. It was phenomenal,” she said.

The CAPS advisory committee has been meeting to prepare for this transition. The administration is procuring grants to grow the program.

“It’s amazing when you sit down with community members and parents and then staff and you get such different ideas from different angles… It’s been very eye-opening.” The goal of the program builds on key agricultural concepts every year.

The pollinator garden construction has started. The district has applied for grants to fund the building of an outdoor learning space. The school is developing an animal agriculture experience – something students highlighted as an interesting point through the school survey process.

Eyth has been teaching for more than 20 years. She was encouraged by her school principal to attend Educator’s Ag Institute in 2019, believing she would benefit from the experience. She credits that week for creating a renewed enthusiasm for education. She was named the 2020 Teacher of the Year by the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau Ag Promotion Committee. She will be attending the National Agriculture In the Classroom Conference in Iowa this summer, representing the foundation and Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

Her children have blossomed through the agricultural experiences, even this year, although her programs had to adapt due to COVID-19 school guidelines.

She wants to connect the kids to what agriculture is and more importantly to the world around them and its opportunities. CAPS will help her do that.

“Agriculture is very fragile as an industry, nature can disrupt that at the drop of a hat. I think (farmers) don’t get enough credit for what they do each and every day. We just take (farmers) for granted when we go to the store. I remember the first time one of my kids told me that, yes, chocolate milk comes from brown cows and I was horrified, but they were so serious and so very honest about it,” she said. “By giving students experiences, it can make a difference.”