Philipsburg Elementary School students learn the roots of farming industry on Penn State field trip

bmilazzo@centredaily.comOctober 24, 2013 

— When second-grader Nolan Hite asked, “How do beef cattle get the beef in them?” the whole room laughed at his priceless question.

The 7-year-old was one of 23 Philipsburg Elementary School students who were part of an all-day field trip Thursday to various agriculture venues around Centre and Huntingdon counties.

The purpose was to teach students about the agriculture cycle during National Farm to School Month, which helps bridge the gap between schools and the local agricultural scene.

Much of the field trip was held outside, where students were able to interact with farmers and livestock and get a better sense of where their food comes from.

“We went to see dairy cows that have dairy in them and beef cows that have beef in them,” Nolan said, as Greg Hubbard, station manager at the state Department of Agriculture Livestock Evaluation Center, gave the students and chaperones a tour of the facility on West Pine Grove Road.

They visited Penn State’s Agronomy Farm in Pennsylvania Furnace, Evergreen Farms in Spruce Creek and the Department of Agriculture facility.

The Livestock Evaluation Center conducts feeding and management tests on beef, swine, sheep and goats that are used for meat, Hubbard said.

With a strong smell of manure in the air, educators said that was the one agriculture aspect the students could identify with.

“They’re familiar with the smell but don’t know the atmosphere,” said Sarah Tzilkowski, a Penn State graduate student and fellow with CarbonEARTH. “That’s where we can educate them that food doesn’t just come from the store, or that their actions can impact everyday life. It gets them to think critically.”

CarbonEARTH is a federally funded program that brings graduate students into the classroom to enhance science education.

Tzilkowski is completing her doctorate degree in forestry resources at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

On the bus trip through the Centre Region and beyond, Tzilkowski said she provided the kids with doughnuts and discussed where the ingredients came from.

“They see that without farms, there’s no food, or there is nothing else like cotton T-shirts or a leather coat,” Tzilkowski said. “At this age, they’re absorbing all that information and seeing that food comes from beyond the grocery store.”

The field trip was part of the program that allowed Tzilkowski to pair with Amy Yarrison’s second-grade class throughout the year. This is the program’s fourth year in existence, but Tzilkowski’s first year working with students.

However, this is the last year for the program, as federal funding has run out, Tzilkowski said.

“It’s educational for me, too,” Yarrison added. “I’m writing down all that I can in hopes of bringing something new to the classroom next year and the year after.”

As a teacher, Yarrison said allowing her students to get firsthand experience with the lessons is the best part.

“It’s exciting. You can only do so much in the classroom,” she said. “The challenging part is connecting them to the real world. This allows them to be interactive and get hands-on with what they’re learning.”

Students such as 7-year-olds Alexis Branton and Ali Sankey, both of Philipsburg, tossed forage to the cows.

“Did you know a cow has four stomachs?” Alexis said, enthusiastically. “We learned they eat a lot of grass, and they can eat a lot because they have more stomachs than us.”

Ali’s mother, Brenda Sankey, who chaperoned the trip along with a handful of other parents and guardians, also was able to volunteer her services, as Hubbard put her in a cow chute to demonstrate what the agriculture workers do to the livestock to test their size.

“As a parent, you show your daughter that it’s OK to volunteer and be a part of the activity,” Sankey said. “Field trips like this is good for our youth. We live right in town, so we’re not exposed to farms like this everyday.”

Tzilkowski and Yarrison are both coming up with future lesson plans based around science. With a new lesson plan on a regular basis, Tzilkowski said by the end of the year, students would have a science fair that would incorporate what they learned to the event.

“It gets a great response from the kids, and I don’t think we’ve seen this many parent chaperones,” Yarrison said. “When we’re able to show them firsthand what we’re teaching them in the classroom, then the whole education system behind that is much better, not to mention it’s a lot of fun.”

Britney Milazzo can be reached at 231-4648. Follow her on Twitter @ M11azzo.

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