One question I get pretty regularly in both professional and personal circles is, “What is it you actually do?” This is a fair question. My title isn’t exactly like other positions, like accountant, mechanic, or chef, where you can easily glean what my day-to-day tasks are. Because of that, I thought I’d take some time to explain really what my organization is about, and how we do that day-to-day or season-to-season.
I work for the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation. We’re a relatively small non-profit foundation that was founded four years ago to help promote agricultural literacy in all Iowans. By “all Iowans,” we mean three basic segments: students, educators, and adults.
Some of our programs, like this blog and our social media accounts, are directed towards the adult learner. We like to bring in topics that people may be curious about and answer questions about agriculture that people have. We do this a lot with our “Why Do They Do That?” series on our blog.
Many people assume that we do a lot of classroom programs. This is a fair assumption, considering IALF is the state contact for Agriculture in the Classroom, and classroom programs are a large part of Agriculture in the Classroom. However, since we are a small foundation and there are lots of school districts in the state, we rely on local Agriculture in the Classroom coordinators and volunteers to do most of these local programs. Instead of coming into those classrooms ourselves, we work with the local coordinators to give them support and resources and help make their jobs a little easier.
That doesn’t mean we don’t travel! A big part of our student programming comes from events, like the Iowa Children’s Water Festival, the Kid’s Club stage at the Iowa State Fair, and STEM festivals across the state. At these events, we like to do fun, hands-on activities that incorporate agriculture into STEM topics, like seed germination or genetics.
The segment we focus the most on, however, are the educators. We believe that if we reach educators, we can reach more people in the long run. However, this segment can be broken down further into formal educators (like K-12 classroom teachers) and informal educators (like Agriculture in the Classroom coordinators, local volunteers, and others that are interested). Because of this importance and all of the people it encompasses, we spend lots of time on resource development and support.
We create student readers, lesson plans, and kits that teachers can use in their classrooms. We also collect high-quality books, curricula, and other helpful materials that can be used by teachers. Every summer, we host teacher professional development workshops across the state to showcase these things and help display how agriculture can be used as the context for Iowa’s core standards. And if that wasn’t enough, we also offer grant and award programs specifically for teachers!
For our informal educators, we host training sessions at various conferences and meetings. We help them plan their programming and assist in aligning it to core standards. We lend them high-quality materials free of charge, and we also have grant opportunities that may be applicable for their programs. We also spend lots of time with these people talking about their goals, upcoming programs, and what we can do to help.
So what does a regular day look like for us? That depends! Our team consists of three full-time employees, an intern, and a part-time administrative assistant. Since there aren’t many of us, we tend to help each other out a lot with day-to-day tasks. These tasks vary a lot season-to-season, depending on if we are out doing teacher professional development workshops in the summer; planning teacher pre-service and education conference sessions in the fall; or managing STEM festivals, grants, and contests in the spring.
My role specifically as Education Program Coordinator deals a lot with getting people the resources they need. I can regularly be found answering emails from teachers or Agriculture in the Classroom coordinators about what resources we have that can help for their specific programs. I help send them materials, talk through programs, and help coordinate volunteers to staff booths at STEM festivals across the state. I can also be found regularly doing weird things, like going to Lowe’s for roofing nails and five bags of potting soil for an upcoming student event!
My other team members may focus more on educating teachers through online courses, professional conferences, or outreach efforts. They may also spend time helping new Agriculture in the Classroom programs get started, or provide extra support for those that are more established. They may spend time working with sponsors, or mailing materials, or writing press releases, or one of the other many tasks that we as a team accomplish.
In all, IALF wants to educate Iowans. We tend to focus our efforts on reaching those that educate others, simply to maximize our reach, but we are always keeping our eyes open for more ways to reach Iowans. In fact, in the four years since IALF was founded, we have increased just our student impact by almost six times! Because of that growth, we’ve had to flex and learn, and I don’t think we’re done yet!