STORY BY: Avery Davidson
Judy Morgan, a fourth-grade teacher at Charles M. Burke Elementary School in Duson has been named the 2015 Ag in the Classroom (AITC) Teacher of the Year.
Morgan, a 34-year veteran, was chosen for the top honor by the Louisiana Farm Bureau AITC committee because of her commitment to using agriculture as a means to give her students a real-world education. Normally active and verbose in the classroom, Morgan said the award came as something of a shock.
“It was stunned silence,” Morgan said. “It’s kind of beyond my imagination. I never in a million years dreamed of something like this. It’s beyond words for me.”
Burke Elementary Principal Loretta Williams-Durand not only had no trouble finding words, but had no doubt Morgan deserved the honor.
“Well, Ms. Morgan has always been a phenomenal teacher,” she said. Williams-Durand is the daughter of a lifelong master gardener and the garden at the school Morgan oversees evokes fond memories, as well as clear evidence of the education the students are receiving.
“I have parents calling me,” Williams-Durand said. “Some of these kids have gardens at home. That was very heartwarming for me—I get teary-eyed, because that’s what learning is all about.”
Seven years ago, Morgan began working with LSU AgCenter master gardeners to bring the school’s garden to life. One of the first lessons was that the garden would have to be planted in buckets.
“We had to figure out what the garden would look like here because we have unique soil problems,” Morgan said. “This land is in fact a crawfish pond that was filled in to build the school on, so the quality of the soil is not optimal for an in-ground garden.”
Since that time, Morgan has used the garden, the lesson plans and other materiel provided by the AITC program to show her students how basic educational concepts have real-world applications.
“For me, it’s a living laboratory, because there’s so much there that’s going on,” she said. “You know, I can teach it and you might remember it, but if I show it to you, you’ll never forget it.”
Lynda Danos, the Louisiana AITC coordinator, agrees. She says with so much controversy surrounding education right now, it’s rewarding to see educators like Morgan teaching beyond the times.
“They don’t just learn science, they do science,” Danos said. “When it comes down to it, it really doesn’t matter what we call them, whether it’s a benchmark, a standard, a common core, or an objective. It’s what do we need those students to learn. Those life skills that we need them to learn. And this living laboratory here, provides us that opportunity to teach those skills.”
For being named the AITC Teacher of the Year, Morgan received an iPad from Progressive Tractor and Implement, $500 from the Louisiana AITC Foundation and an all-expenses paid trip to the national AITC convention in Louisville, KY also courtesy of the La. AITC Foundation. Since the national AITC convention is on a different week, Morgan gets to go to the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation annual convention in New Orleans, courtesy of LFBF.