Craig County has seen many students excel in their personal endeavors. The main reason why is the quality of teachers that they are surrounded by. Chris Ratliff falls into that category. She seems to have not only captured an award, but the heart of her kids to enjoy learning.
On Friday, February 2, Ratliff received an email from Tammy Maxey, the Senior Education Manager, saying that she had been chosen as a runner-up for the 2018 Virginia Agriculture Teacher of the Year.
“I am excited to be a runner-up,” Ratliff shared. “There are many great opportunities with Ag in the classroom lesson plans. So many teachers around the state are using agriculture to relate topics to their students in exceptional ways.”
She added, “It’s an honor to be considered successful using these lessons plans, along with our school garden to encourage our youngest students to get their hands dirty and eat something that they have grown.”
Initially, Chris was encouraged by the Farm Bureau’s Women’s Committee and other District Farm Bureau members to enter. She had to complete an application process that involved explaining specific things that had been done in the classroom that showed the use of agriculture in various areas of a classroom.
Mary Hunter, President of Craig County Farm Bureau and member of the CC Women’s Committee, also wrote her a letter of recommendation.
“After visiting Chris’ classroom a few times, I knew that I had to encourage her to apply for the Teacher of the Year,” Hunter said. “I was excited to hear that Chris was named the runner-up. She is an amazing teacher who takes a great deal of her personal time to find ways to use agriculture as a means to help her students understand plants, animals and the importance of them in their daily lives.”
Ratliff is an Early Childhood Special Education teacher at McCleary Elementary School. On this project, “Connecting Children to Agriculture,” she worked with other teachers as well as students at CCPS.
“For example, providing our younger students the chance to experience the smells, textures and visual differences of the food farm animals eat was a fun activity to do to enhance the learning of the five senses,” she said.
One interesting project she planned for her students was planting a pizza garden with tomatoes, peppers and onions so they could make their own pizzas in the classroom.
“This was our first year implementing this, so planting season was a little hard to play with as we had to wait until school started,” she said. “The hope for this coming year will be a little plot of wheat so that the kids will be able to grind that in their hands and have a sensory experience.”
They also planted watermelons but said that the soil was too rich. As a result, their watermelons were over a foot and a half long but never ripened. “We cut them, and all were white on the inside, but the kids had fun tasting them not being ripe,” she said.
Ratliff also added that in the classroom she incorporated agriculture into almost every area as well as a buddy project with the middle school science teacher. Students were responsible for caring for a root and herb garden as part of a dramatic play.
“In this, she uses Ag as a way for her students to learn social skills and grow their leadership and relationship growth skills as they work with the special education students,” Hunter shared.
“I would not have been considered for this recognition if not for the students in my classroom, the support of my assistant Tammy Flinchum and the fun STEM activities planned by Stacy Crowder, who leads our seventh-grade science buddy program,” Ratliff shared.
Any teacher who incorporates agriculture into their classroom is eligible to apply for this annual award. “I encourage all teachers to look at the lesson plans that are on the Virginia Agriculture in the Classroom website. You never know how easy it might be to add fun activities to your classroom that will bring things to life, so to speak,” Hunter said.
Ratliff plans on entering the contest again. “This was our first school year with the garden in place, and we are excited to see where it will go as we have big plans for it,” she said. “I’m excited to see where our garden will go in the next couple years as we continue to partner with other community groups.”
“Chris’ dedication and drive to build the garden, share it with her students as well as other students and teachers has been amazing,” Hunter exclaimed. “Her enthusiasm for incorporating agriculture has sparked the interest of other teachers and has helped to bring more agriculture-related lessons into some other classrooms at the school. “
Ratliff’s email tagline seems to be her action motto in the classroom, “When educating the minds of our youth, we must not forget to educate their hearts,” a quote by Dali Lama.