Fifth grade teacher Dawn Alexander from Tom McCall Elementary School in Redmond, Oregon is the first Oregon teacher to receive the prestigious 2019 National Excellence in Teaching about Agriculture Award presented by the National Agriculture in the Classroom Organization, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Farm Credit. Dawn was selected along with seven other educators across the United States for their innovative strategies of integrating agriculture into core curriculum subject areas within their classrooms.

Dawn Alexander, Fifth Grade Teacher

Dawn’s passion for agriculture stems from her childhood in Nevada, which lead her to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Agriculture Education at the University of Nevada, Reno. Due to limited job availability in her subject specific degree, she decided to obtain an Elementary Endorsement. Instantly, Dawn found this opportunity was where she “could make an impact, exposing young students to the importance of agriculture and learning where their food comes from.” Dawn has been an educator for 34 years and has incorporated the importance of agriculture in students’ lives as a staple in her classroom curriculum choosing a specific agricultural topic yearly to use as context across all subject matter.

In recent years, Dawn has received grant funding to incorporate a variety of agricultural related projects into her classroom including a seed-to-salad project, herb and tomato garden, and an indoor greenhouse. According to Jessica Jansen, Executive Director of Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom (Oregon AITC) and nominator of Dawn for this award “Just one look in her classroom and it’s apparent that agriculture is at the core of everything she does.”

Student watering plants in their indoor greenhouse

This year’s agricultural topic titled “Please the Bees!” had students exploring the importance of bees to Oregon crops. Students chose a crop to research that was reliant on bees for pollination and were tasked with identifying growth regions, type of bee pollinator, and exploring challenges that face bees. Using Spheros (robots that are programmable through an app), students learned coding and programmed their robots to maneuver around their bee research posters and present the information they found. With the incorporation of technology, Dawn was able to “discuss how farmers and computer scientists use technology and information to change and improve how they grow and cultivate food.” This project went on to include many different aspects of agriculture including choosing pollinator friendly plants to grow in their indoor greenhouse and creating marketing plans for an assortment of businesses the students created in using the honey produced by the bees. At the end of this lesson when Dawn asked her students “Why are the bees important to us?” They responded with “we wouldn’t have most of our food to eat!”

Students preparing planting trays for their herb and tomato garden project

Dawn Alexander’s dedication to her students and the integration of agricultural education in her fifth grade classroom has provided students with the opportunity to engage in their own learning and take ownership in it. Jessica Jansen from Oregon AITC describes Dawn as “an educator that goes above-and-beyond to inspire our next generation and has been doing so for her entire career.”

Dawn Alexander and the seven other recipients receiving the 2019 National Excellence in Teaching about Agriculture Award were honored at the National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference in Little Rock, Arkansas. 

By: Brittany Capell, Education Programs Coordinator