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Cunningham launches school-wide ag science program
Cunningham 2
Alexia Chavez looks at the Cattle Womens booth at Cunninghams Back to School Night, which educated students on the benefits of a meat-based diet. - photo by ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal

When Turlock Unified School District Superintendent Dana Trevethan requested that each elementary school in the district develop their own “brand” for the 2017-2018 school year, Cunningham Elementary School Principal Tami Truax knew just what to pick. Agriculture is at the heart of Turlock’s community and also surrounds the campus, with grazing horses and crop-tending farmers just a minute’s drive away from the school. Now, the school is heading into its first year as a campus with a focus on Agriculture Science, and Truax couldn’t be more excited.

“Our school decided that Ag Science would be a great way to infuse a lot of excitement into the curriculum, and the big thing it does for our kids is it gives them a purpose for their learning,” said Truax.

During Cunningham’s flagship year of the new program, students in grades K-6 will participate in activities and lessons that bring agriculture into their classrooms like never before, including field trips to local agriculture businesses, visits to the TUSD farm and studying plant growth in a forthcoming garden on campus.

In addition to the overarching theme of Agriculture Science at Cunningham, each different grade level at the school will focus on a different ag-based theme throughout the year. Different themes which will be explored include animal systems, natural resources and agribusiness, among others.

“We’re the only elementary school that I know of in California that has taken on a school-wide focus of Agriculture Science, and given what we have right here, it just makes sense that our children begin learning about and appreciating what our Central Valley does for all of us every day,” said Truax.

To help introduce the new theme to both students and parents, 11 local businesses visited Cunningham’s Back to School Night on Aug. 16, providing the campus community with information and answering questions about agriculture industry.

Along with organizations like Nutcher Milk, Turlock Irrigation District and Foster Farms, District Six Dairy Princess Makayla Toste was at the event to educate others about the importance of supporting local farmers, dairy owners and other food providers.

“A lot of kids eat processed foods and don’t really know where their food comes from because it’s what’s convenient to them,” said Toste. “A lot of them don’t realize how local their food is and how easily accessible it is.”

Mininger Farms of Livingston had a booth at Back to School Night, where parents and students were taught about the nutritional benefits of sweet potatoes, and Westside Ministries encouraged children to sign up for 4-H.

For parent Isabel Zamudio, the night was a perfect introduction to a program she hopes will teach her children more responsibility.

“I think it’s pretty exciting because I know our principal is very involved with ag, and the kids love it,” said Zamudio. “I know in second grade, my son will be doing a lot of planting, since his teacher asked us to bring in seeds of any kind. I hope he’ll learn the steps and what it takes to grow something.”

Agriculture isn’t just about animals and crops, though, Truax pointed out. The ag-based curriculum ties in to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), teaching students about more than one topic while preparing them for careers in many fields.

“We are so close to so much agriculture, and we know that a lot of our families do have some contact with people in the ag community, but we really wanted to elevate that and take it to a level where the kids are looking at STEM activities,” said Truax. “Through Ag Science, there are so many pathways through high schools, colleges and careers, so we’re really hoping that as our students learn more about agriculture, they’ll become excited about all the opportunities that will be available for them on their way up through the educational system.”