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Tips from Ag's Top Teachers

Arlys Cupp has been teaching in southwestern Nebraska for 35 years and was honored last month by the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation as the 2020 Nebraska Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher of the Year. In western Colorado, Cindy Pearson, a third-grade teacher at Loma Elementary, has been tying agriculture into her daily curriculum for 12 years.

Both teachers are involved in agriculture themselves.

Cupp plants 2.5 acres to pumpkins and a corn maze and then incorporates lessons about pumpkins into her classroom through utilizing resources available through Nebraska Farm Bureau. To producers who are interested in supporting teachers who are incorporating agriculture into their classrooms, she recommends the Ag Pen Pal program. The program pairs classrooms with a rancher in the sandhills and they are able to exchange letters and learn about the cattle and crop production so important in the state. The rancher pen pal paired with Cupp’s class received hand-painted, dried gourds from the students at Christmas.

“Letter writing skills are taught and improved while the students learn about agriculture in Nebraska,” said Cupp. “The friendships and relationships developed are personal and create a real-life connection to agriculture for the students.”

Cupp uses many of the accurate agriculture books that the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation recommends in her language arts class. One of her favorites is First Peas to the Table by Susan Grigsby. The book is based on a contest that Thomas Jefferson held with his friends and neighbors every year. The book integrates school gardens, history and seasonal weather themes into a fun-to-read book. Cupp developed an hour-long lesson to go with the book where the students learn about Thomas Jefferson, farming throughout history and modern-day agriculture.

“After we read the book, each student received a package of peas to plant at home,” Cupp said. “I received pictures all summer long of the pea plants and produce the students grew to eat with their families.”

Cupp is also involved with 4-H and FFA. Cupp has been a 4-H leader for 26 years and has lead projects in the areas of livestock, vet science, gardening, cooking, STEM and communications. She enjoys watching the children explore and excel in agriculture related areas while challenging them to further their knowledge and expand their projects.

“I feel so privileged to be able to teach my students about the generations before us and their agriculture practices,” Cupp said. “Many of my students have grown into individuals with successful agriculture careers. I’m so lucky that I get to be a part of what interests them in agriculture at such an early age.”


Pearson, who is part of a third-generation cow calf operation and small feed yard, takes the school’s third graders on a field trip to their cattle operation and the local livestock auction.

She said there are a number of actions local producers can take to support teachers who are making an effort to incorporate agriculture into their curriculum. Financially supporting the Colorado Foundation for Agriculture is one way she said producers can ensure teachers have access to free resources designed for classrooms and aligned with Colorado standards.

Making available to local school districts a list of local producers or business owners willing to serve as resources or speakers is another step producers can take to support teachers. Pearson said students are anxious to connect learning with real life and guest speakers who can share their experiences with students can help make those connections by demonstrating how they utilize math, technology, reading and writing daily. Opening the gates to farms and ranches to host field trips is another way producers can support teachers and share the story of agriculture with students.

Pearson said agriculture can be paired with concepts across the curriculum, including history, science and art. “Flat Aggie” is one of her activities that is a classroom favorite. Students are paired with farmers, ranchers and agriculture businesses across the country and Canada. Students create a paper doll character of themselves to send with a letter to their counterpart who can then photograph the paper “Flat Aggie” around their operation and answer the student’s questions. The project meets content standards in the classroom and encourages handwriting letters, something she said that can be minimized in a mobile device-driven society. Students also learn about careers and the production of agriculture products.

Other ways to support local teachers making an effort to incorporate agriculture include donating supplies like incubators to hatch eggs, funds to purchase resources from the National Ag in the Classroom program, and accurate agriculture books.

​Cupp will receive an expense-paid trip to the National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference, an accurate agriculture book bundle featuring 12 books and corresponding literature guides, and a $250 cash prize. The conference brings educators together from all over the United States to learn how to use agricultural concepts to effectively teach core subjects such as reading, math, science and social studies. The conference features recognition for Teacher of the Year honorees, educational workshops, traveling workshops to agribusinesses and research facilities and farm tours.

For winning the Colorado Foundation for Agriculture Outstanding Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher award, Pearson receives a $500 monetary gift. She also earns a trip to the National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference, which will be held June 22-26, 2020, in Salt Lake City, Utah. ❖

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