McLean County Farmer Earns Statewide Honor

A McLean County farmer has earned statewide recognition for his efforts to help others learn about agriculture and build connections from the farm to the plate.

John Olson has been named the 2020 Illinois Ag in the Classroom Volunteer of the Year. Olson and his family grow corn and soybeans near McLean, Ill.

“I first got involved in ag education as a member of the Young Farmer committee forty years ago,” Olson says. “I learned from others the importance of getting involved and sharing the story of what we do on the farm.”

In the 1980s, Olson and others hosted hundreds of local fourth graders for farm field trips. He was also involved with the development of an ag exhibit at the Children’s Discovery Museum starting in the mid 1990s.

Olson served as a founding member of the local ag education committee that created a fun, educational exhibit at the McLean County Fair called the Food & Farm Fun Zone. He designed and built several hands-on exhibits including a combine cab simulator that lets visitors see harvest from the driver’s seat and a grain bin kiosk with interactive videos and games.

“We appreciate all of the hard work and creativity John has contributed over the years,” says Bridget Caldwell, McLean County Ag in the Classroom coordinator. “He helped us put a lot of ideas into action and built some really neat exhibits to bring learning about agriculture to life.”

Olson has also served on the McLean County Farm Bureau Board of Directors and McLean County Fair board. He will be recognized at the Illinois Farm Bureau Annual Meeting in Chicago in December.

Local teachers Win IL AITC Grants

Ten McLean County teachers will receive grant funding from Illinois Ag in the Classroom to add books and projects related to food and farming to their curriculum.

Recipients include:

  • Erin Scott, Washington Elementary, District 87, Biography Books
  • Jennifer Woith, Sheridan Elementary, District 87, Earth Day Books
  • Karli Otloe, Sheridan Elementary, District 87, Poetry Books
  • Kathy Rasch, Prairieland Elementary, Unit 5, Poetry Books
  • Katlyn Sandage, Stevenson Elementary, District 87, Biography Books
  • Krista Mroz, Sheridan Elementary, District 87, Pollinator Books
  • Mary Aper, Benjamin Elementary, Unit 5, Project Grant: “Wonder Table – Inquiry of Plants” & Pollinator Books
  • Suzanne Schertz, Prairieland Elementary, Unit 5, Pollinator Books
  • Tina Thomas, Stevenson Elementary, District 87, Earth Day Books
  • Tracy Hitchins, Sugar Creek, Fairview & Brigham schools, Unit 5, Poetry Books

The grants offer teachers the opportunity to expand their libraries with accurate ag books or purchase supplies for lesson plans related to food and farming. The 2019-2020 Teacher Book Grants are funded in part by The BRANDT Foundation.

The Illinois Ag in the Classroom teacher grants are offered annually thanks to funding from the IAA Foundation, the charitable arm of Illinois Farm Bureau.

LeRoy Educator Earns teacher of the Year Title

Katie Buckley, secondary special education teacher and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Educator across the district at LeRoy CUSD #2, has been named 2020 Illinois Ag in the Classroom Teacher of the Year for her outstanding efforts in incorporating agriculture into her classroom.

“I am so honored to be recognized for this award,” Buckley says. “My goal for my students is to give them an insight into agriculture that goes beyond farming. I try to find ways to incorporate agriculture into high interest topics such as drones, automated agriculture, and GPS. The job market for agriculture is going to continue to grow and students need to be aware of those careers.”

Buckley’s students have twice won the Purple Plow Challenge, a nationwide ag-related STEM competition. As a result, the classroom gained two 3D printers and $200 in giftcards.

Using a variety of grant funds, Buckley has also purchased drones, robotic components, tablets and more to enable students to explore the uses of technology in agriculture.

“I’m so excited to see Katie recognized as the Illinois Ag in the Classroom Teacher of the Year,” says Bridget Caldwell, McLean County Ag in the Classroom coordinator. “I’m amazed at her creativity plus all of the technology she uses and how she connects it to agriculture.”

Buckley is also an alum of the American Farm Bureau STEM on the Farm program, a professional development opportunity that offers educators the chance to learn firsthand about the science and technology of beef production.

Buckley will be recognized at the 2019 Illinois Farm Bureau Annual Meeting in Chicago and will receive a trip to the 2020 National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. She will also be the Illinois nominee for the USDA National Excellence in Teaching Agriculture Award. You can follow Buckley and her students on Twitter (@LeRoySTEM).

IL AITC Project Grants

Expand your classroom resources with a project grant from Illinois Ag in the Classroom!

Grants for up to $300 can be used to purchase materials for agricultural teaching units, classroom presentations, career fairs and more.

Items that are not eligible for grant funding include field trips, landscaping, plants, incubators and one time use consumables.

Find all the details and apply here.

Application deadline: October 11, 2019

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