Gerke leads Ag in the Classroom toward growth, greater classroom presenceWritten by Jennifer Womack
Following a hefty fundraising campaign, the program is on better financial solid ground. Gerke, who joined the non-profit a little over a year ago, sees opportunity around every corner and says the program is seeing increasing requests for its services. Gerke is an employee of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture whose efforts are directed by the Wyoming Agriculture in the Classroom Board of Directors.
Gerke has a teaching degree, but has moved her focus from teaching kids to teaching teachers. The subject matter — how to bring natural resource education into the classroom while meeting state curriculum requirements. By helping teachers become excited and informed about natural resources, she says, the program can leverage its ability to reach students. Center to that effort is WAIC’s Natural Resource Rendezvous, a learning opportunity offered to Wyoming teachers each summer.
“I love teaching people and that’s why I went into education,” says Gerke. “But I have a really hard time getting too far away from the country life so when this job came up, I jumped at it.” Gerke was raised on the Flying X Ranch, a working cattle and guest ranch near Wheatland. She welcomes the opportunity to spread the message about natural resources and ranching. “It’s about the land,” she comments.
Gerke hopes her work through WAIC can help offset the growing trend of technology replacing outdoor experiences for many kids. “Kids don’t go outside anymore,” she says. “We used to pretend all day and play in the creek.” When they couldn’t ride horses, she says they occupied their time riding the propane tank in the back yard.
With those experiences came an appreciation for the land and the people who live there. “They might know milk comes from cow,” says Gerke of modern-day students, “but they don’t know that someone has to raise and milk those cows.” That’s a trend she hopes to reverse. Teachers across the state are responding positively.
Gerke says she has more requests to make classroom presentations than she can fulfill. “I’m always looking for people who can go into the classrooms and help share our message,” she says.
She’s also seeing an uptick in the number of teachers requesting materials for their classrooms. “The number of requests and feedback is growing,” she says of the group’s Country to Classroom publication. Gerke’s efforts to offer materials pre-fitted to state standards and curriculum, ease the teachers ability to accept the opportunities amidst increasingly stretched schedules.
Long-term Gerke says she’d like to see natural resource education, including agriculture, become a part of the state curriculum. It’s a move that she says has occurred in some neighboring states. “The Wyoming Department of Education has what they call Project 2014,” says Gerke. “They want to go back to a more project based learning style. They want it to be more vocational where learning is tied to specific jobs and careers. I see that as a place where we can jump in.”
Given the excitement this young agricultural leader possesses for her new job, it will no doubt be exciting to see where Gerke and the WAIC program go in the years ahead.