One of my favorite memories of school was when we had the Star Lab visit. The large inflatable gray dome looked like an out-of-place igloo as it took up half of our elementary school gymnasium. Every class was given a one-hour presentation inside the Star Lab. The students crawled inside the small tunnel to sit inside the dome, where a projection of the night sky was cast overhead. We learned about constellations and our solar system during the middle of the day, without having to step foot outside. I loved the mythological stories of the constellations: Queen Cassiopeia hanging upside down in her chair, the belt of the hunter Orion, Cancer the crab that attacked Hercules, and the big bear Ursa Major and small bear Ursa Minor.
The stories and science of the Star Lab have remained with me. I took a course in college on astronomy and one of my majors was Classical Civilization: the study of ancient lands and their history, culture, mythology, languages, and texts.
I never had an ag in the classroom program visit my elementary school, but I know I would have loved it as a student. I would have loved to learn about all the ways corn is used, including to make ethanol for gasoline and dissolvable packing peanuts. I would have been fascinated by pollinators and the fact that one out of every three bites of food you eat depends on bees. I would have read more about specialty crops grown in Illinois, including pumpkins and horseradish.
Like the Star Lab, Cook County Farm Bureau’s ag in the classroom program is an opportunity for students to have a crash course in an interesting subject without having to leave their school building. We call our presentations “in-school field trips,” and I think that the name is fitting. We bring history, science, and agriculture into classrooms. Our presenters use a Google slideshow, but they incorporate hands-on activities, science experiments, and interactive games into their presentation.
I was able to observe two of our presenters in the classroom in late September. Although I knew all of the material and information they were presenting because I helped create the slideshow, I was enthralled during both presentations. The presenters knew how to gather their audience’s full attention. I wanted to raise my hand and participate along with the students. I wanted to play the games and answer questions.
The excitement of the students was infectious, too. After years of remote and hybrid learning, having a classroom visitor was a special occasion. The students were eager to learn, ready to participate, and engaged the entire time.
During the presentations, I was also reminded of the joyful energy and precociousness of youth. Comments they made to the presenters included, “What would happen if aliens took all the pigs?,” “My dad eats chicken hearts,” “I’ve never had Lucky Charms,” and “I love engineering! I have two Lego sets at home.” One student guessed that Old MacDonald was the first farmer in Cook County. At the end of a presentation, one student asked the presenter if he gets paid for his presentations “because you did a good job and that was a lot of information.”
The goal of our program is to bring agricultural education to students. One in five of those students will one day work in an agriculturally-related career field. They will be chefs, scientists, horticulturalists, truck drivers, grocery store employees, and maybe even farmers. I hope our in-school field trip sparks their curiosity and that they get bitten by the agricultural bug. Maybe they will take an agronomy course in college or major in agricultural science. The opportunities are endless, and so are the possibilities.