Owens, Parrino Named 2017 Ag In The Classroom Teachers of the Year

STORY BY: Allie Doise

Lisa Owens and Karen Parrino may have very different curriculums’ in their classrooms, but they are united by a single goal.

Parrino, the 2017 AITC Elementary Teacher of the Year, has her students explore the insides of a seed, to learn where their food comes from. Photo by Monica Velasquez. 

Parrino, the 2017 AITC Elementary Teacher of the Year, has her students explore the insides of a seed, to learn where their food comes from. Photo by Monica Velasquez. 

Owens decided to bring agriculture into her English classroom at Homer High School.  Parrino has used agriculture to help touch the lives of her kindergarten students at North Live Oak Elementary.

Both teachers use agriculture to teach life-changing lessons and now both have been named 2017 Ag in the Classroom Teachers of the Year for their efforts.

Using agriculture in her kindergarten lessons is a natural fit for Parrino.  She uses ag to teach her students everything from the rules of buoyancy to developing basic thinking skills.

Parrino said seeing her students make connections between agriculture and daily lessons are important.

“I love it when I see them make those connections,” she said. “I see them using critical thinking and problem solving. It makes me so happy because I try to lay that foundation all year so that they’ll use that.”

Even without trying, Parrino has always incorporated agriculture into her lessons.

“When I moved to kindergarten about 20 years ago, I just inherited a bee at that time,” she said, referring to a bee plaque on her door. “So I’ve just always been the bee room.”

Parrino uses the class pet to give students a visual of the lesson when she can.

“Over the years it’s just worked with ag and science,” she said. “We learn about pollination and bees and I had a friend bring me an actual honeycomb this year and some honey.”

Parrino believes in the importance of teaching youth about agriculture because sheknows how valuable it is to both her and her students.

“Agriculture touches everyone’s life every day,” she said.

On the other hand, Owens hasn’t had it easy when it comes to fitting agriculture into her curriculum, but by finding ways to make it both fun and informative, she made it fit. 

Owens, the 2017 AITC High School Teacher of the Year, teaches the importance of agriculture to her english class students, using tools like the Ag Literacy program. Photo by Monica Velasquez.

Owens, the 2017 AITC High School Teacher of the Year, teaches the importance of agriculture to her english class students, using tools like the Ag Literacy program. Photo by Monica Velasquez.

Owens received a grant from the Claiborne Parish Farm Bureau to buy books for her students to read to the local elementary school. Her students review these books after reading them as part of the Ag Literacy Volunteer Reader Program. These reviews are then used to help teachers choose the right book to help others learn about agriculture.

Owens admitted fitting agriculture into her classroom wasn’t easy.

“In English, in high school, it’s sometimes a little more challenging because it’s not a science class or a vocational ag class,” she said. “But we still find ways to sneak it in.”

“Ag in the Classroom stuff is fun stuff,” she added. “I think that surprised a lot of the students. After the first visit, some of the student teams came back and said, ‘can we go again?’ and I wasn’t expecting that.”

However fun or sneaky it may be, the results of putting ag in her English curriculum speak by the unexpected growth in her own students, Owens said.

“Some of those students who never talk, who never answer questions, I saw them leading the group discussions,” she said.“I saw them getting up in front of the class presenting, talking about the PowerPoint, actively.”

This project allowed Owens to reach an audience larger than her own classroom.

“I can talk about ag in the classroom with my 35-40 students every day,” Owens said. “But, we’ve visited more than 10 classrooms at the elementary school this year. So, we’ve actually touched more than 200 students.”

The Louisiana Farm Bureau’s Ag in the Classroom programs helps ensure a new generation of farmers and ranchers by giving teachers the necessary tools they need to effectively incorporate agriculture into every subject they teach.  Each year the AITC committee selects a teacher who excels in incorporating agriculture into the classroom as the Ag in the Classroom Teacher of the Year.