Lafayette Parish teacher named Ag in the Classroom teacher of the year

Bruce Schultz, Hebert, Charles L.

Judy Morgan, teacher at Charles Burke Elementary School in Lafayette Parish, helps her fourth-grade class check the oxygen level in a stock tank used to grow crawfish as part of a 4-H school garden program. Morgan has been chosen as Ag in the Classroom Teacher of the Year by the Louisiana Farm Bureau. (Photo by Bruce Schultz)

Teacher Judy Morgan shows one of her students a weed to be pulled from vegetable seedlings at Charles Burke Elementary School in Lafayette Parish. (Photo by Bruce Schultz)

Students weed their vegetable crops grown in containers in the garden at Charles Burke Elementary School in Lafayette Parish. (Photo by Bruce Schultz)

News Release Distributed 04/21/15

LAFAYETTE, La. – Judy Morgan, fourth-grade teacher at Charles Burke Elementary School in Lafayette Parish, has been honored by the Louisiana Farm Bureau as Ag in the Classroom Teacher of the Year for her school garden project.

Along with the award presented by Lafayette Farm Bureau President Linda Duhon and Ag in the Classroom Chairwoman Bernita Rosinski came a $600 grant from the Farm Bureau to help pay for improvements to the garden.

“I was stunned,” Morgan said.

The award was affirmation that the 4-H school garden is a huge benefit to her class, Morgan said. She is coordinator of the LSU AgCenter 4-H School Garden Initiative Program at Charles Burke Elementary School. She said the AgCenter expertise has been essential to the garden’s success.

The entire AgCenter faculty is supportive, she said. “I can call any one person, and they respond.”

Four fourth-grade classes, about 80 students, participate in the school’s garden program. Each class has its own section of containers to grow their crops.

The Farm Bureau Ag in the Classroom program is designed to help students gain an awareness of the role agriculture plays in the economy and society. The program also helps teachers use agriculture in their curriculum.

Morgan will receive a $500 award, an iPad and expense-paid trips to the Louisiana Farm Bureau Convention in New Orleans and the National Ag in the Classroom Convention in Louisville, Kentucky.

The 4-H garden program was among other Louisiana 4-H programs that benefit from a $40,000 grant from National 4-H and UnitedHealthcare. The grant supports youth healthy-living programs, including the AgCenter School Garden Initiative, in a partnership called Eat4-Health.

Morgan said many individuals from the AgCenter have been helpful with the garden.

Master Gardener John Fontaine is a big help, she said. “He’s a major force. He teaches classes, helps with planting, and he added a life-cycle lesson this year.”

Morgan said AgCenter agent Mark Shirley assists with aquaculture questions and helps with growing wetland plant and a crawfish pond. “He’s always so gracious,” she said.

Charles Hebert, the Lafayette Parish 4-H agent, is a big part of the reason the program has succeeded, she said. He recently went to bat to maintain funding from the Lafayette Parish School Board. “He’s invaluable because I can call him in at a minute’s notice,” Morgan said.

A big reason Morgan was chosen for the award is her eagerness to try new things, and she uses gardening to teach math, science and writing, Hebert said. “She is a very innovative teacher who is willing to do things differently.”

He said Morgan has her students teach younger students about gardening. After eating mustard greens they grew, they persuaded the cafeteria staff at the school to include mustard greens on the school menu, Hebert said.

The garden gets the children out of their seats, and they are enthusiastic about what they do and learn, Morgan said. “This reminds you of what really matters. It’s been an adventure.”

The garden even has a crawfish pond – a stock tank where the class planted rice. One student, Raegan Babineaux, brought 172 crawfish from her grandmother’s pond.

“I used a bucket, and I caught them on the edge because that’s where they stay,” Raegan said.

Students found a female crawfish on the playground, and it was added to the pond. A few weeks later, the students discovered they could coax the crawfish to the surface with a few pellets of turtle food.

One day, the class checked the oxygen level of the water with an instrument. The reading showed the level was up. “It’s because we put the pump in,” said student Nioka Olmos.

Morgan, a 34-year teaching veteran, said the school garden concept has added a valuable component to her teaching repertoire because the garden provides a living lesson of what happens in science.

“When you talk about pollination, you’re not just talking about something in a book,” she said. “It brings a hands-on component to science instruction.”

Gardening also teaches students to work independently and how to make decisions, she said. “They make decisions about what needs to be watered and what doesn’t.”

Students busily go about their chores of weeding, checking for insects and picking anything ripe. One day, two girls reported to Morgan that they had just planted a plot of Swiss chard.

“I think it’s wet enough because when we moved the dirt, we got mud on our hands,” said student Shaida Dugas.

Student Attiya Smith said the seeds should sprout in seven to 10 days.

Morgan said a big benefit of the garden project has been a decrease in disciplinary problems. “There are considerably less behavior issues,” she said. “It’s a huge motivator.”

The students get the benefit of what they grow, she said. They learn to cook the vegetables, then set up a serving line and dish up what they grew and prepared.

Many of the students are eating some vegetables for the first time, and the garden’s bounty also provides an opportunity to teach better eating habits, Morgan said.

Student Chad Trahan still remembers the sautéed carrots the class prepared. “It tasted like heaven,” he said.

Morgan said one girl in last year’s class demanded her parents put in a garden last spring. “They produced a really big okra crop and shared it.”

Bruce Schultz
4/22/2015 1:37:43 AM
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