Our staff is very happy to present Melissa Doherty of Rocky Heights Elementary school in Hermiston with the 2016 Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom (AITC) Teacher of the Year award! She was celebrated during AITC’s Fall Harvest Dinner and Auction on Saturday, October 22, at OSU’s CH2M Hill Alumni Center, with a slideshow of her student activities, honorarium and plaque. Ms. Doherty was chosen for her work in helping her students integrate and understand how their food, forestry products and fiber are produced. This award is a chance to highlight and feature Ms. Doherty’s exemplary incorporation of agriculture across curricula. Executive Director Jessica Jansen states, “It is wonderful to have a teacher who is cutting across so many disciplines with agricultural and natural resources education: literacy, math, science, and sensory experiences.”
Others have been inspired by Ms. Doherty’s approaches and excitement for incorporating hands-on lessons. In his recommendation letter, Rocky Heights Elementary School Principal Jerad Farley noted Doherty has a “passion for teaching and an immense wealth of knowledge” that leads her to integrate lessons and activities in agriculture, life sciences, environmental science, geography, history, etc. Fellow teacher Jessica Campbell states that Ms. Doherty is not hindered by the planning time to prepare experiences for her entire second grade team, using local farms and community resources. Ms. Campbell feels that to “experience science come alive all through a passionate educator is something that will leave an impression on you, like all of us, for years to come.”
Ms. Doherty obtains free resources from Oregon AITC’s Free Loan Library, a program that allows Oregon educators to check out supplies free of charge. She uses egg incubators to have students take on the responsibility for caring for the incubating eggs, as well as the young hatchlings. “Although the students knew ‘chickens come from eggs,’ it is entirely different when you watch a chick hatching,” she says. Field trips, cooking lessons, and measuring weather and plant data all contribute to her very integrated curriculum. AITC’s free resources have helped her work as “these [AITC] lessons build upon each other, while giving the students a real life experience. In providing students real life experiences, the learning process becomes more meaningful and lasting for our students.”
So, what’s next for teacher Doherty? This year, she plans to use Oregon AITC tree and forestry resources and as she says, “partner with the City of Hermiston Parks Department and community groups to plant nearly 100 saplings at a neighboring park in conjunction with Arbor Day…in 10 years, when they graduate from High School, they can see trees where they planted saplings.” Read on for a full interview with our Teacher of the Year.
AITC Interviews Melissa Doherty, AITC Teacher of the Year
How did you first hear about our program?
I was born and bred in the big city so I didn’t have any agriculture growing up. When we moved to Hermiston we bought a small farm and got involved in 4H. I started to see the many ways agriculture effects our lives. Then toward the end of my first year of teaching, I received an email regarding the Summer Ag Institute and decided to go. This one week program instructs teachers about agriculture and how to implement agriculture programs in the classroom. On the last day of the week-long training, Jessica Jansen spoke to the group about the amazing resources provided by Oregon AITC. Jessica walked us through the AITC website, showing us the huge amount of resources available to teachers.
What interested you most about our program when you initially found us?
I was particularly excited about the kits and lesson plans. These resources made it possible for me to design an entire unit of instruction, not just one individual lesson. These lessons build upon each other, while giving the students a real life experience. In providing students real life experiences, the learning process becomes more meaningful and lasting for our students.
What do you like most about our program?
The thing about the program that I appreciate the most is the quality materials that are provided to the teachers at no cost.
What do you find most helpful for you in your classroom? Do you have a favorite resource?
I have enjoyed all of the resources that I have used from AITC. Probably the most memorable resources were the egg incubators. The entire 2nd grade got to be involved in the process and see how long it takes the eggs to hatch. At the hatching the students were speechless watching a little baby chick slowly crack their way out of the eggs.
However, the most practical resources for me were the plant kits. Using a number of these kits and some other resources, we put together an entire life sciences unit for the students. We live in an agricultural area and many of our parents work in the agriculture industry, whether it is planting, harvesting or processing food. The plant unit taught students where our food comes from and how it is planted. The plant kits allowed students to be engaged in the life cycle of plants. This opened the door for our class garden and eventually culminated in our class field trip to a modern farm and dairy and the SAGE Center.
Do you have any thoughts about how our staff has been helpful to you?
I come with very little agriculture in my background, so sometimes my questions might be pretty basic, but whenever I call the AITC office I am treated with kindness and respect. The employees are very knowledgeable and help me find additional resources to enhance my instruction.
What is one thing you want to do with your students this year that you have not tried from our program?
I am in a bit of a unique situation because this year I looped up with my students to 3rd Grade. So I am able to build on what we already learned last year. Last year we focused on plant life. This Fall we will be having a potato feast where they will be able to sample the various types of potatoes we planted last year. The kids are ridiculously excited about sampling their potatoes, especially the homemade potato chips. But what I am most excited about is expanding on our study of plant life to study trees and forestry. We will focus on studying trees where we will utilize the AITC tree resources. The unit will culminate next Spring, when the entire 3rd Grade will have the chance to plant trees and help with the beautification of our town. We plan to partner with the City of Hermiston Parks Department and community groups to plant nearly 100 saplings at a neighboring park in conjunction with Arbor Day. The students will each get a tree to plant that they will be able to watch grow. In 10 years when they graduate from High School, they will see trees where they planted saplings. Hopefully they will learn about conservation and civic involvement, in addition to agriculture and forestry.
Congratulations, Melissa! Thank you for your work teaching so many exciting areas of agriculture!