Ag in the Classroom Manitoba (AITC-M) is seeing the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, although executive director Sue Clayton says it will still be early 2022 before they return to in-person events.
“We wanted to be cautious and make sure that we give schools and the pandemic enough time — to make sure that people will be able to be together again,” she said.
Lessons learned during the pandemic will expand Ag in the Classroom to run virtual programs even when in-person events are back on the schedule.
The current plan will come in time for some AITC-M staples, such as the Manitoba Ag Days Adventure, which will once again host Grade 7 and 8 students in Brandon in January 2022, and Canadian Agricultural Literacy Month (CALM) in March.
However, others such as the fall’s Amazing Ag Adventure will once again be virtual when school returns in September.
The organization has planned virtual farm tours, along with live question-and-answer periods with a connected farmer, and virtual activities to replace that event.
Even when regular events start again, however, Ag in the Classroom will look different than it did prior to COVID-19.
The pandemic forced AITC-M to develop a new fleet of ideas and tools to keep operating, despite lockdowns and remote learning, and Clayton says many of those projects will stay.
“We will always do in-person programming whenever we can, but we’ve realized the huge value in virtual programming and being able to provide agriculture education for teachers and students in a much larger geographical reach,” she said.
CALM, for example, saw a jump in participation. About 9,200 students engaged with CALM 2021 in Manitoba, 1,000 more than the year before, and included first-time participant schools in locations like The Pas and Churchill.
Likewise, Clayton noted, this was the first year that AITC-M had significant engagement with parents, as the pandemic kept kids out of the classroom.
When students come together for the Ag Days Adventure next year, the organization is planning to run digital programming alongside, including a digital “world game,” an activity designed to draw connections between local production and global trade. AITC-M announced earlier this year that they had received funding to develop a virtual twin to the game, which is usually performed as part of the Ag Days Adventure.
That, as well as the “weather game,” another virtual counterpart to an in-person activity from the Amazing Ag Adventure, are both ready to launch in the coming school year.
There will soon be another $50,000 in the organization’s coffers, courtesy of the Alexander Cherban Agriculture Industry Development Program. Ag in the Classroom Manitoba was announced as the first recipient of the program at the end of June, with funds slated for the development of a primer to be used by teachers.
AITC-M received the maximum possible from the program, which is provided by the province and administered through the Manitoba 4-H Council. The program was established by the province last year.
Recipients of the program will be “non-profit organizations, governments or academic institutions for innovative province-wide initiatives that increase public awareness about the importance of agriculture to the economy, build public trust for agriculture and processing, or support agriculture skills development and promotion of agriculture and food-related career opportunities,” according to a provincial release.
The primer, properly dubbed the Foundations of Manitoba Agriculture Educator Primer, will be a largely online tool providing resources for teachers to use in classrooms, according to Clayton.
“There will be some printed components,” she said. “But it’s going to introduce Manitoba’s top commodities, both crop and animal… there will be a producer story associated with each commodity, an explanation on how it’s produced, an introduction to career opportunities in that particular sector and then relate the commodity to healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle.”
Three components (an in-depth PDF resource for teachers and high school students, a summary version for younger children and an interactive virtual activity) will form the backbone of each commodity feature, she said.
That material will “extend the learning,” for participants of AITC-M programs, Clayton said, as well as provide activities for students at home.
AITC-M hopes to have the primer in place by the end of the year.
Organizations have until the end of this month to apply for the next round of funding under Alexander Cherban Agriculture Industry Development Program funding.