Agricultural education goes mobile

Alyssa Jackson
  • The Mobile Agricultural Education Science Lab saw its 1,000,000 student on Tuesday at North Salem Elementary.
  • The Mobile Ag Lab program started in 2003 to teach students more about agriculture.
  • All Dover Area School District fourth graders get some lessons in the Mobile Ag Lab

Back in 2003, when the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau wanted to educate more local students on where their food comes from, it decided to take a classroom on the road through the Mobile Agriculture Education Science Labs, or the Mobile Ag Labs.

North Salem Elementary students hold a banner Oct. 4, 2016, to celebrate that their class topped the 1 millionth mark for students to work in the Mobile Agricultural Education Science Lab.

One of the Mobile Ag Labs welcomed its 1 millionth student Tuesday at North Salem Elementary School. The child was in a fourth-grade class that was honored with a news conference, a pep band and an exciting lesson on mushrooms. The class was honored as a whole, rather than celebrating just one student.

"Kids love it," Charles Benton, the director of career education and academic services at Dover Area School District, said of the Mobile Ag Lab lessons. "My youngest child went through it, and it's still all he talks about."

All fourth-grade students in the Dover district do activities in the Mobile Ag Lab each year. Benton said that the school district made the Mobile Ag Lab part of its curriculum about four years ago to teach the children more about the agricultural industry. Students also practice writing in their lab lessons, which helps them on the PSSA exams that are taken each spring.

More Pa. students proficient on PSSA exams

When the Mobile Ag Lab comes to schools in the south-central Pennsylvania area, students learn about the agricultural process, different careers in agriculture, how their food is made and how other products are made from agriculture, such as deodorant or even car seats.

The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and its charitable organization, the Pennsylvania Friends of Agriculture Foundation, work together with local farms in the area to be able to offer this type of education to students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

One such farm is Flinchbaugh Orchard in York, a family-owned business. Andy Flinchbaugh is a partner in the business and also is the director on the PFB board and the executive director of the PFAF board.

North Salem Elementary fourth-graders work on their science labs in the Mobile Agricultural Education Science Lab on October 4, 2016.

Flinchbaugh became involved with the Mobile Ag Lab through his roles with the PFB. Because everyone benefits from agriculture, educating students on the process is something that hits close to home for him as a farmer.

"The world of agriculture is exciting, there's so much diversity," he said. "We are all consumers of agricultural products, so it's important for us to understand the complexities of bringing food to the table."

After the news conference, students boarded the bus to work with Ruth Smith, the Mobile Ag Lab teacher, on learning more about mushrooms. All teachers for the Mobile Ag Labs are state-certified, and many are retired teachers from the area. The students learned about the functions of fungi, what property they have, and they had the chance to dissect one.

Since the Mobile Agricultural Education Science Labs started in 2003, the program has grown to six mobile labs that travel throughout the state to teach about agriculture. According to a release provided at the new conference, a mobile lab can educate up to 900 students and involve up to 30 teachers per week.

Tonya Wible, the program director for the Mobile Ag Labs, said that when she was a classroom teacher she often heard students say they didn't like science. Over the years while working with kids, she said she's seen a number of them change their minds about science and get excited for different experiments. Some students want to work in agriculture after the lessons.

"If all we have done over the years was to excite students about science and learning, then we've done a good thing," Wible said.