Agriculture class at Tanner Elementary is popular with students

Sept. 1—TANNER — A new agriculture technology program at Tanner Elementary is not only teaching children about farming methods, it’s improving attendance, reducing discipline issues and improving grades.

Principal Sylvia Haslam said most of the students at Tanner Elementary come from families who are actively farming and Haslam knew she could relate to them through agriculture.

“Agriculture … encompasses so many hands-on skills that students need,” Haslam said. “Now people think about the farming aspect of it but they don’t think of the economic aspect of it, the animal science. … They don’t think of the other avenues made possible through just learning agriculture.”

Haslam said Superintendent Randy Shearouse started an elementary agriculture program in Effingham County Schools in Georgia where he worked before coming to Limestone County and wanted to bring the same program to the Limestone district.

The Tanner class is taught by agricultural technology teacher Lori Gibson.

“Last November, we went to Georgia to see how they were doing it,” Gibson said. “The kids just loved it, and we were fortunate enough this year to get to teach it full time.”

Haslam secured the funds for the agriculture program earlier this year and said total costs for the program were about $20,000, with some donations coming from the community.

All 300 Tanner Elementary students are involved in the program, from pre-K through fifth grade. It is the only such elementary school program in the district.

The kids planted cabbage and broccoli this year in garden beds that were donated and built by Journey Church of Madison. Gibson also wanted the garden planted by her students to reflect the school’s diversity.

“A lot of our students are Hispanic, so we wanted to plant hot peppers for them,” Gibson said.

Gibson said last year she would bring students out to the garden twice a week, spending a few hours each time. This year, she is able to teach the 45-minute class Monday through Friday.

The Tanner Elementary garden consists of seven garden beds where the students planted marigolds, carrots, tomatoes and strawberries, and four kiddie pools filled with soil where students planted potatoes and onions. They just recently planted snap peas in two small containers in the garden.

“Some older students saw it on TikTok,” Gibson said of the kiddie pool garden beds. “They’ll grow OK in there but not great.”

On Wednesday, Gibson led a group of enthusiastic second graders outside and asked them if they were ready to spread some fresh mulch.

Second grade student Edwin Miguel smiled as he pointed at a red potato sprouting in one of the pool beds.

The school did not want to leave out any student who wanted to participate in the agriculture program.

“We’ve got a small sensory garden here where our special needs students can work in,” Gibson said. “They can feel the lamb’s ear (plant), taste the rosemary plants and smell the lavender plants.”

Gibson also taught her students how to build a small chicken coop last school year, which housed the high school program’s chickens when they were small. Second grade student Emerie Langford said her fondest memory last year was taking care of the young chicks.

Gibson said her class will progress into photography as they document how their plants grow.

“We’ve got our cameras and 3D printers, and we’re going to do some coding on the 3D printers,” Gibson said.

Haslam said she has noticed improved attendance and students are behaving better for their teachers after being in the program.

“When they wake up now, they can’t wait to get to school to work in the garden, so there’s not that many attendance problems now,” Haslam said.

— wesley.tomlinson@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2438.