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Bloomington teacher named tops in ag education

One man and two women pose for a photo in an elementary school classroom and hold a sign that reads 'Teacher of the year, Mrs. Amanda Stanko, Corpus Christi School, Bloomington, McLean County.
Kevin Daugherty with Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom poses for a photo with IAITC Teacher of the Year Amanda Stanko, center, and Carrie Vogel, the McLean County Ag Literacy Coordinator.

Amanda Stanko, an elementary school and pre-K STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teacher with Corpus Christi Catholic School in Bloomington, was recently selected as the 2024 Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom (IAITC) Teacher of the Year.

In honor of her selection, Stanko will be recognized during the 2023 Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB) Annual Meeting in Chicago and will receive a trip to the 2024 National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. She will also receive the Illinois nomination for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Excellence in Teaching Agriculture Award.

“I’m honored to receive this award. I’m trying very hard every year to push my boundaries, and see what I can bring new (to the classroom),” said Stanko in an interview on WGLT's Sound Ideas.

Stanko did not grow up on a farm but gained an appreciation for agriculture through her father, who designs tractors for Case-New Holland. Her passion for educating youth about agriculture sprang from a summer teacher’s workshop hosted by the Farm Bureau.

“I realized how important it is to start teaching our kids about agriculture, and I was amazed by how easily things fit into my curriculum already, in fact blended in perfectly. And that actually caused me to shift my thinking on how I teach STEM and how (it and ag) can incorporate together. That organically led to deciding that this is where my heart truly lies,” she added.

AITC program dates to Reagan, Block

According to Kevin Daugherty, IAITC coordinator and director of agricultural engagement for the IFB, the mission of IAITC program is to teach Illinois children the importance of agriculture and the vital role it plays in their lives and society. IAITC supports local educational and outreach efforts by providing high quality, standards based, scientifically sound agriculture information that can be easily integrated by teachers into the existing classroom curriculum.

Each year IAITC reaches more than 660,000 students and 37,000 teachers throughout Illinois. Services and materials are provided at no cost to teachers.

“The AITC program dates back to the Reagan administration,” said Daugherty. “The (then) director of agriculture, (Illinois farmer) John Block, knew that there were farm bureaus and volunteers all across Illinois and across the country that were going into classrooms and teaching students when they were becoming more and more removed in the late 1970s and early ‘80s more and more from the farm.”

The Department of Agriculture decided to act on the matter by assembling a national task force to launch the AITC program in 1981. There is now an AITC program in every state, with the Illinois program headquartered in the IFB building in Bloomington. Partnering with the statewide IAITC program are the major Illinois ag commodity groups, Illinois Department of Agriculture, Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Districts and the University of Illinois Extension.

Daugherty said Stanko exhibited the drive, knowledge and energy required to be selected IAITC Teacher of the Year.

“As for Mrs. Stanko, she has gone above and beyond. She has attended multiple teacher training workshops including our Summer Ag Institute, where we do in-depth teacher training (about) agriculture that they can immediately implement back into their classrooms. One of the things Mrs. Stanko did (is) incorporate (ag) into her STEM programming from kindergarten through sixth grade,” Daugherty said.

Stanko: STEM touches all aspects of ag, farming

Stanko’s “STEM in agriculture” lessons include everything from plant life cycles and utilizing farm products daily to growing a "Giving Garden" to support the school cafeteria and local food bank. Stanko designs her agriculture lessons to every grade level. For example, kindergartners might learn how to make butter with an “adopted” cow or identify the individual parts of a plant, while sixth-grade students test and amend soil after each growing season.

In addition to incorporating ag into her STEM lessons, Stanko’s passion for agriculture has led her to enroll in a master’s program in ag literacy and education with the hope of providing an FFA chapter at her school in the future.

Stanko said that she regards all aspects of agriculture -- including germplasm science, new equipment technology and the engineers who design them and the mathematics of determining seed count, yield estimates and more -- as falling under the STEM umbrella. This allows for a wide variety of lesson opportunities to educate youth about ag technology, production farming, forestry, land stewardship, conservation, sustainability and more inside the structure of the state’s Common Core curriculum standard.

“I think agriculture fits seemingly into a STEM curriculum,” said Stanko. ‘Both (ag and STEM) teach students to be problem solvers, to be risk takers. I think agriculture lends itself perfectly to being part of a STEM or an engineering program.”

By integrating ag into her STEM lessons, Stanko is better able to educate her young pupils about food sourcing and the people who work the land that surrounds their community. “It’s vital that we start teaching our students where their food is coming from, and how their local community is impacted by the agriculture that surrounds them,” she said.

“Especially in McLean County; we are in an area that is heavy with agriculture and I think it is vital that we teach students at a young age that agriculture has a hand in everything, and that they are a part of it. We are stewards of this land, and they are the future conservationists.”

For more information about the IAITC program and the Teacher of the Year award, contact Kevin Daugherty at (309) 557-3334 or kdaugherty@ilfb.org.

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Tim Alexander is a correspondent for WGLT. He joined the station in 2022.
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