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Four top Michigan teachers earn ag foundation grants

LANSING, MI -- The Michigan Foundation for Agriculture (MFA) has named four outstanding teachers from around the state as the recipients of its 2014-15 educational grants to help fund exemplary classroom projects that teach school children about the importance of agriculture.

Chosen from eligible applicants at the pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade levels, each of this year's recipients were awarded $500 grants:

• Jodi B. Conley — Lapeer County

• Joe Ankley — Huron County

• Loretta Slocum — Missaukee County

• Megan Merrill — Jackson County

Grant awards are meant to augment the integration of agricultural concepts into non-agricultural-curricula through the use of science supplies, school garden enhancements, purchase of accurate agriculture books and lessons, purchase of ag-friendly textbooks or software, nutrient testing supplies, field trips and summer programs focused on agriculture.

Conley teaches second grade at North Branch Elementary School, where she launched a project titled "Changing Lives Through Agriculture: The Life Cycle of a Chicken." Her MFA award went toward supplies for incubating and hatching eggs in the classroom. The eventual sale of those birds makes the program self-sustaining.

At North Huron High School, Ankley had students create informational displays about cash crops and livestock for use in Ag in the Classroom presentations at local elementary schools and the Huron County Fair.

Slocum, who teaches seventh grade at Lake City Middle School, used her award to bolster a cold-box project in which students learned how to plant seeds and nurture them into healthy seedlings. Eventually the project will culminate in an annual springtime plant sale, when they've earned enough to erect a school greenhouse.

At Springport High School, Merrill used her MFA grant to purchase nutrient testing kits to continue a six-month, school-based research project to test the productivity of aquaponics versus commercial hydroponics. The program tests growth parameters in propagating lettuce without soil.

Applications for MFA grants for the 2015-16 school year will be available later this summer.

Governed by the Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) Board of Directors, the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture administers funds to support MFB's educational leadership and charitable activities.

For more info, contact Tonia Ritter, MFB Promotion and Education manager, 517- 679-5345.

Jodi B. Conley

Conley's students observed incubating chicken eggs, watched them hatch and reported their observations with the student body at North Branch Elementary as part of Farmer Day Celebration.

"Students will create an inquiry-based investigation and observe changes that occur during the incubation and the initial days in the life of a chicken," Conley wrote in her grant application. "(They) will study the chicken and investigate land use in our community as it relates to agriculture."

As part of the grant, students in Conley's class, along with Mrs. Gormley's third-grade class, were invited by the Lapeer County Farm Bureau on a special field trip to AgroLiquid Fertilizer's IQHub ag education facility in St. Johns.

The birds hatched and raised in Conley's class will eventually be sold, with the revenue helping to fund the program in the future.

"The project can become self-sustaining for years to come," Conley said. "Revenue earned will be used to purchase supplies for subsequent years."

Joe Ankley

The students in Ankley's high school agriscience classes researched several Michigan animal species to create commodity-specific displays to help educate third-graders at the Huron County Project RED (Rural Education Day).

The signs include facts about livestock animals and emphasize the importance of major Huron County commodities, like dairy, corn, wheat, beef, pork, sugar, poultry, dry edible beans and soybeans.

"Permanent and professional displays are important to communicate agricultural facts," Ankley wrote in his grant application. "Without the use of grant money, printing would be too expensive. Quality presentation of materials helps recruit students to enroll in agricultural education programs.

"There are many students in my classes because they remember the cool things we did at Project RED or the cool projects they came to visit in their elementary classrooms," he said.

The posters also will be displayed in the Miracle of Life barn at the Huron Community Fair.

Loretta Slocum

Slocum is helping lead the effort to build a student greenhouse at Lake City Middle School. She said several local Farm Bureau members have become advocates of the project. The cold boxes were constructed and planted with seeds, and the resulting plants were sold in mid-May.

"Any profit will go toward the future purchase of a greenhouse," Slocum said.

The ultimate goal is to introduce students to the diversity of agricultural career paths.

"(It'll) be very informational for our students to help them see the many job opportunities in agriculture," she said.

Megan Merrill

Merrill's students planned research on an aquaponics and commercial hydroponic research project comparing lettuce propagation via both methods. Because of setbacks in heating the greenhouse, the original project was postponed, but will be completed in the 2015-16 school year. Adapting to challenge, the testing equipment was purchased and used for research training with students this spring. The full research project results will be submitted to the Arthur Berkey Agriscience Fair at Michigan State University in March of 2016.

"Our agricscience program possesses all of the facility and project equipment to conduct the research, but is in need of new testing kits," Merrill wrote in her grant application. "(We needed) proper testing kits for this particular project."

Merrill's project is part of a comprehensive approach to agriscience education at Springport High School.

"The agriscience department has grown to be the pride of entire school district and community," said Randall Cook, superintendent of Springport Public Schools. "Our agriscience instructors are continually updating their curriculum and creating new and exciting opportunities for our students, including a greenhouse, livestock facilities and sustainable agriculture."