The lack of farms in Oak Lawn has not stopped St. Germaine teacher Carole Scannell’s fourth-grade students from learning how their lives are touched by agriculture every day.
An Evergreen Park resident with 32 years of teaching experience, Scannell has been incorporating farming and agriculture into lesson plans for the usual subjects of math, reading, language, social studies and science since getting involved in the Illinois Farm Bureau’s Agriculture in the Classroom program five years ago.
Illinois Farm Bureau officials recognized her efforts last Thursday, naming her 2015 Teacher of the Year. Keven Daugherty, education director of the Agriculture in the Classroom program, and Maureen Burns, surprised her in her classroom in the school at 9735 S. Kolin Ave. with her award and a bouquet of flowers.
As the Illinois nominee for Teacher of the Year, Scannell also will get a trip to the 2016 National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference in Litchfield Park, Ariz.
She was among 40 nominees statewide, chosen from the more than 7,000 Illinois teachers involved in Agriculture in the Classroom.
Scannell also participates in the IAITC Adopt a Classroom program, which matches her class with farm families in rural Fulton County, in western Illinois.
“The students have a lot of great pen-pals in Fulton County,” explained Agriculture in the Classroom presenter Linda Dunn, a resident of Chicago’s Garfield Ridge neighborhood who visits Scannell’s classroom periodically to share agricultural information.
Each May, the fourth-graders at St. Germaine, with their teacher and parents, take a bus trip to visit their farming friends in Fulton County.
“It gives them a chance to see working farms up close,” said Scannell. Like her students, Scannell doesn’t come from a farming background, “But I’ve been interested in it since I was a little girl,” she said. “I think I was a farmer in a former life,” she added.
“It certainly shows that we are teaching more than reading and math here,” said Principal Kevin Reedy. “We don’t teach agriculture as a subject, but she finds a way to incorporate it into everything.”
Reedy said that during the school year, St. Germaine students don’t visit the working farm attached to the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences in the nearby Mt. Greenwood neighborhood. But he said Scannell volunteers at a summer program at the Ag School, which gives her pupils a chance to see the crops and livestock there.
A runner-up last year, Scannell is only the third teacher from Cook County to receive the Teacher of the Year award.
“Now you’re legendary, Mrs. Scannell. One of the best teachers in the state,” said student James Mahia. “I don’t know about that,” she said modestly.
James and his classmates enjoyed pumpkin sugar cookies in honor of their teacher’s award, after showing off their considerable knowledge about agriculture in Illinois, including the fact that Illinois produces more pumpkins than any other state.
With the Cubs in the playoffs, they were also asked how baseball is connected to agriculture. They were able to reel off everything from the game being played on grass, to the bats made of wood and the clothing and shoes of players coming from plants and animal products.
“Getting this award is really a big honor,” said Scannell, who was nearly brought to tears by the surprise visit and presentation.
“But it’s really because of all these people that it is such a success,” she said, pointing out Daugherty, Dunn and Burns. She thanked them for providing course material and a smart board for her classroom, and said the active participation of the Fulton County farmers is another key.