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Farm-To-School: New Program Brings The Field Trip To The Classroom

© Leesburg Today - 09/23/2015

The teachers at Hillsboro Elementary School are realizing they don't need to go far for a good classroom lesson.

The small school, situated on the northwestern edge of Loudoun County, is surrounded by hundreds of acres of rich farmland. So as its educators looked for ways to provide more project-based learning, they decided to glean teaching opportunities from their agricultural surroundings.

Under the theme Farm-to-School, they created a yearlong program that is meant to give the school's 96 children lessons beyond the classroom walls.

""Without having the opportunity for many field trips, our goal was to find a way to bring the farms to them,"" said Stacie Kling, a third- and fourth-grade teacher at Hillsboro. ""We're duplicating everything that's good about field trips in house.""

The students didn't seem to mind not boarding a bus for a field trip when they got a visit a couple weeks ago from Chef Jason Lage, who owns Market Table Bistro in Lovettsville and Market Burger in Purcellville with General Manager Rebecca Dudley.

Lage made fresh salsa while he talked to a roomful of eager-to-learn tykes about the benefits of knowing where their food comes from. While chopping tomatoes of various shapes, sizes and colors, he told the students that a lot of tomatoes at the grocery store come from California or Central America and are picked when they're green.

""Tomatoes are best when they're ripened on the vine-just how nature does it. We picked these this morning from our garden,"" he said. ""You'll be able to taste the difference.""

The students-aside from a few who announced they did not eat tomatoes, except in the form of ketchup-agreed that the salsa tasted better than the canned varieties found on grocery store shelves. They'll get a chance to taste the fruits of their labor soon, when a garden of fall produce they planted on campus with the help of parent volunteers begins to blossom.

Lage commended the school for embarking on the Food-to-School concept. ""A lot of kids don't know how vegetables grow. But you guys have a fantastic group of teachers who are willing to teach you that because it's just as important as math and science,"" he said.

The Food-to-School lesson plans, which encompass all subject areas, are part of a transition at Hillsboro Elementary from a traditional public school to a public charter school. In June, the Loudoun County School Board approved the application to convert the campus into a charter school, set to open in the fall of 2016. Hillsboro Charter Academy will still be funded by Loudoun County Public Schools, but it will be a school of choice and will be allowed more flexibility in how it meets state mandates.

A major part of the Farm-to-School program will be for the students to share what they've learned with others outside of the school. They'll create and post videos to Loudoun County Public Schools' YouTube channel Loudoun Creates and at community events.

""The students take ownership when they can showcase what they've learned in the greater community,"" Kling said. ""They become the teachers.""

The YouTube channel also will serve as a way for the Hillsboro teachers to share their Farm-to-School program with other educators throughout the commonwealth. They designed the lessons to align with Virginia's Standards of Learning.

""We set it up to allow each teacher to adapt the program to meet the needs of their students,"" Kling said. ""We're essentially using ourselves as the guinea pigs.""

During Lage's visit, the students appeared more than willing to do their part to forge new instructional ground. After they pelted the chef with questions about everything from his middle name to his favorite food, Lage invited them to visit one of his restaurants.

""And if you come, let me know you're there and I'll come talk to you,"" he said. ""We're friends now.""

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