​Lessons Learned: A Farm to School Project in the Land of Lincoln

Molly Masulis’ “Farm-2-School Expansion” project at Williams Elementary School.

January 8, 2019 |

Williams Elementary School 2nd-graders work and learn in a local community garden, Mattoon, IL.<\/p>"

Grants in Place is a modest grant program that encourages rural school district teachers across the country to engage their students in place-based learning. We believe that place-based education gives meaning to learning, strengthens the bonds between school and community, and instills pride in the cultures and histories of rural places and small towns. This approach has a keen focus on student engagement, learning outcomes, and community impact.

Molly Masulis’ “Farm-2-School Expansion” project received $800 Grants in Place award to expand the local Farm-2-School program to include all of Williams Elementary School second grades classes, Mattoon, IL. Farm-2-School program is a collaboration between Williams Elementary second grade classes and Fit-2-Serve volunteer service organization.

Thanks for Central Illinois Rural Schools Partnership and Brian and Denise Reid for supporting our Illinois Grants in Place program.

We are pleased to provide the following update from Mr. William “Bill” J. Duey, Fit-2-Serve Director:

"To me, some interesting lessons have emerged from the Farm-2-School Expansion Program, which is a Grants in Place funded project that Williams Elementary (Molly Masulis) received funding for through the Rural School Collaborative. It is my hope to take this opportunity to provide you with a report on the "progress to date" and to also share some "lessons learned" as this work can expand to other rural communities with time.

Farm-2-School, a collaboration with Williams Elementary (WES) 2nd-grade classes and a local not-for-profit (Fit-2-Serve), began two years ago as a pilot program with two 2nd grade classrooms. Initially, WES partnered with Fit-2-Serve, expanding to include our high school FFA program as a partner. This enabled Farm-2-School to be offered to all five 2nd grade classrooms.

Lesson #1: Piloting is critical for the long-term sustainability of programs.

Lesson #2: Community partnerships that allow the teachers to remain focused on the "front-lines" of education (the daily direct work they engage with students) are essential.

Pre-planning for the 2018-19 academic year included multiple engagements with 2nd-grade teachers in the Farm-2-School program. The first engagement took place in September where all five classes came and worked in the community garden. Each class came separately to maximize engagement and to keep the ratio low between community volunteers and the students. We were blessed with some master gardeners joining us, resulting in a very successful foundation in moving the program forward throughout the academic year.

Lesson #3: Strong partnerships breed additional partnerships; a key element we have learned along the way. WES's partnering with Fit-2-Serve has now drawn our local master gardeners to engage in working with us on the Farm-2-School programming during the academic year and now includes our summer Learn-2-Grow program.

In both October and December, our local FFA chapter at Mattoon High School hosted the Farm-2-School program at the high school for all five 2nd grade classes. Pre-planning logistics in terms of scheduling has proven essential in allowing the 2nd-grade teachers to remain focused on their required direct service. The high school FFA program was able to receive funding from Farm Credit to purchase supplies needed and used for the Farm-2-School classes taught on location at the high school.

Lesson #4: Once the academic year is underway, teachers have very little time to be focused on logistics. Ideally, trusted community partners (i.e. Fit-2-Serve) need to provide efficient and effective delivery of their programming, enabling teachers to remain focused on their students.

Lesson #5: Success breeds success, especially with regards to grant funding. The funds received from the Grants in Place program were used as leverage to provide for additional funds (from Farm Credit) for materials needed to increase both the quality and quantity of the Farm-2-School program.

Lesson #6: Indirect benefits often accompany successful programming as this work, in part, led to the authorship of another grant to Youth Service of America (YSA) that was funded in the amount of $12,000 to promote youth volunteerism throughout Coles County. All the FFA students’ hours involved in Farm-2-School count as volunteer hours for the grant funded by YSA.

In January, all five 2nd grade classes will return to Mattoon High School for another round of programming prepared by the FFA students.

Lesson #7: We have enormous human capital in the form of our high school students who are capable, able and willing to assist in the development of youth in our community. Because they are being asked to lead these Farm-2-School sessions, they are growing in their capacity to lead and getting to put into motion content they are currently studying and learning.

In both March and April, the Fit-2-Serve team will be visiting each of the five 2nd-grade classrooms to deliver the content associated with the ISBE standards related to biological evolution and ecosystems. It is in this work that the funds from Grant-in-Place will be used to supply the materials needed.

Lesson #8: Although the funds received from the Rural School Collaborative have not been expended as of yet, the goal to expand the Farm-2-.School programming has already transpired. Investment (as was received when this project was initially funded) tends to yield returns far beyond what was simply proposed in the initial grant proposal.

Finally, in May, all five 2nd-grade classes have been scheduled to return to the community garden to transplant all they planted during our March visit to the classroom and to plant additional seeds while working in the garden.

Based on all that has transpired in the first few months of receiving this support, I dare predict just how much more will be accomplished between January and May. We are both thankful and grateful for the support and hope that this feedback will prove helpful as other communities continue to take on the work of capacity building in and throughout rural America.

Recently, Fit-2-Serve updated its website, and I would encourage you to take a glance: www.fit-2-serve.net. We feel strongly that some of the lessons we have been learning as a community partner with our local schools will be helpful to others, namely the Rural School Collaborative and the Rural School Teacher Corp.

Blessings on your day!"

We invite you to learn more about our 2018-19 Grants in Place program! Also, we encourage you to check out our web section on the value of place-based education. Thanks again to Bill and Molly on their good work.

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