The Hartsbrook School
The Hartsbrook School can be seen as the road bends on Bay Rd. in Hadley, recognizable by the sheep and cows grazing on the hillside as students are busy at work and play. This is the Pioneer Valley’s Waldorf School. The school offers early childhood though 12th grade education in a nontraditional way.
For more information, check out: http://www.hartsbrook.org/
My name is Sarah Visnick and Fall 2016 brings me to my 20th year on Earth, the start of my third and last year at UMass Amherst. I am a Sustainable Food and Farming student in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture. I also study education and plan to continue on to UMass’s Masters program for Elementary Ed.. This semester, in addition to my work at the Hartsbrook School, I continued my work as part of the UMass Student Farm which involved early harvest mornings, crop planning and analysis, and the weekly UMass Student Farmers Market. In addition to farming, I took agriculture and education classes, and I was a Teacher’s Assistant for Sarah Berquist’s Agriculture Leadership and Community Education class. All of these classes were very relevant to each other and helped me to learn the skills necessary for being an agricultural educator.
My goal is to become a teacher and teach agriculture in public schools. I am passionate about our Earth and about growing food. My desire to become a teacher comes not only from my childhood goals but also from the hope and inspiration I see in children. I see education as a path to the future and the ability to inspire kids and give them the tools and skills they need to navigate the world makes me excited and hopeful.
The job has two main parts: farmer, and teacher.
Part one, farmer, involves taking care of the animals and the garden. This entails being there for morning and afternoon chores, even on weekends. It’s both challenging and rewarding. There’s a lot of water hauling, hay bale stacking, and manure scooping; however, there is something very special about working with animals that I can’t quite put words to.
The second part is being a teacher and working with the kids. I’ve had the wonderful experience of working with a whole variety of students. Mostly 3rd, 4th, and 8th grade. I really like working with these students in their Agricultural Arts classes. Its really neat to see them interacting with and taking care of the animals.
Work with the 3rd and 4th grade involves work the animals in the beginning of their basic study of animal husbandry. The 3rd and 4th grades are responsible for the daily care of the rabbit and chickens, and the goats and donkeys, respectively. Additionally, in their weekly classes we work and harvest their gardens from the year before, plant and observe cover crops, and process grains.
I work with the 8th grade 3 times per week. Once a week they have their beekeeping intensive, which is a really great way for me to end my week. I love observing how the behavior of the students and the bees reflect one another, which works to keep the students calm and attentive. The eighth grade also does intentional work mornings with us twice a week. This means that they get to start their day in a helpful, and active way. They help us with projects, get a taste of what being a farmer is really like, meanwhile talking with us and asking question the whole time.
Work at the Hartsbrook school has been very transformational for me as a teacher. I have had the distinct pleasure of working with Nicki Robb. Nicki is the founder and program coordinator of the Land Stewardship program at the school. Nicki is a great teacher to learn from. The students have such respect for her and she is able to maintain a class even without a classroom. She is patient and clear and she can make every lesson effective for every student. Nicki is honest and open with the students, with other teachers and with me, this creates a trusting and respectful atmosphere around the land stewardship program.
I have also been able to take little learnings from the other teachers at the school in my observations of them.
As the semester has gone on I have been given more and more responsibilities as a teacher and this has given me the opportunity to get a hang of working in this dynamic way. I get to greet the kids and explain the lesson, then orchestrate and ensure students are busy and ask them questions and answer their questions. Then, at the end of class, I debrief telling them what they’ve done well and how they can improve. I always end the class on a high note thanking them for the work that they do, especially if they worked well together and were engaged in the lesson.
I have also started doing other teacher activities. I helped the third grade with a practical arts class where we skirted wool and in that lesson I worked with a different teacher and we worked inside. Having that diversity of experience is exciting for me because it gives me more skills as a teacher.
I also was able to attend my first teacher meeting with the third grade teacher and all the specials teachers. This was an interesting learning experience for me because I was able to paint a more whole picture of each student. The teachers shared more details of how specific students are doing in the different areas of study and a variety of techniques they use with the class and with individuals. The teacher shared things of relevance that we needed to know about students and the class as a whole. Seeing that teachers care about teaching the whole student and work collaboratively to cater to student was inspiring. They talk not only about individual students but also about the class as a whole and how students interact with each other.
Opportunities like these allow me to expand my experience and grow as an educator. I think having this Waldorf understanding and mindset will be beneficial especially if I go into work in public schools.
Being an Agricultural Educator
Working in the field this semester has taught me so much about what it means to be an agricultural educator. It requires the planning and communication skills needed to be an effective teacher with the patience and deeper understanding required of being a farmer. There is the lesson planning and prep, the disciplinary and classroom management strategies, the confidence and communication skills, and genuine passion and compassion needed to be a teacher with the added challenges of not being in a classroom setting, doing hands on work with young children and the logistical difficulties of making sure everything is in the right place.
Not being in a classroom makes classroom management a whole different ballgame. There are an endless amount of distractions, even things as simple as the weather and environment. This challenge also acts as a benefit because giving kids the opportunity to harness their energy makes them more excited and engaged. The diversity of energy and physical capabilities within one class means that the class must work as a whole and are constantly learning the value of teamwork. Having task based lessons inspires students to do their best work and accomplish the task within their scheduled class time. The animals help by providing ample motivation for students to complete the task.
Doing hands on work requires a deeper understanding of childhood development. Knowing what task is physically appropriate for what age group is something that comes with practice. Its hard to know if a third grader is strong enough to lift a bale of hay or a bucket of water. Along the same lines of being conscious of child development is knowing how to talk about difficult subjects with different age groups. The topics of death, both natural and purposeful, of breeding, of climate change, and of the other challenges farmers face regularly come up in our work. As the children grow through the program as does their understanding of how the whole system functions. Students are encouraged to ask for help from both their peers and their teachers, and to ask us these challenging questions so that we can help them to understand the full scope of land stewardship.
Logistics is a challenge in itself that comes up in every lesson. We are constantly running back to the barn to fetch epi-pens, first aid kits, shovels, and manure forks. Being an agricultural educator means being prepared for the task. For example, if our morning task is cleaning out the chicken house with the eighth grade that means we have to have a job for all 15 students. That means gathering 15 tools from the barn that can all be used to clean various parts of the coop and bringing them to that part of campus. Inevitably we will be missing something and go back for it, but for lessons to run smoothly it is important to have as much forethought as possible.
Timing offers another logistical challenge. If the task is too small the class will be done early and we will have to improvise for a time. If the task is too big than students will not be able to finish and Nicki and I will have to finish on our own.
All of these are challenges I’ve faced in my work as an agricultural educator, but they also make the job interesting and offer the students an alternative to classroom learning which makes a great deal of difference in their physical, emotional, and academic development. Watching kids get the hang of the farm work and teamwork, and even start to get a grasp on greater agricultural systems is enough to make me proud of the work that I am doing and encouragement to stay on this path.