MAITC Teacher of the Year 2024
Ashley MacDonald, Jim Goodwin, Josh Harris, and Tristen Hinkle
A team of teachers from the Marti Stevens Learning Center in Skowhegan have been named 2024 Maine Agriculture in the Classroom Teachers of the Year!
Ashley MacDonald, Jim Goodwin, Josh Harris, and Tristen Hinkle run a program that supports students who don't fit the traditional secondary level mold through relationship-based practices, trauma informed philosophy, and a curriculum that focuses on real world applications – all with project-based agriculture and outdoor learning at the cornerstone of their programming.
Thanks to many hours spent writing grants, the teachers at Marti Stevens have been able to drastically alter their campus landscape from portable classrooms next to a bleak maintenance lot, into a school where the outside has become the real classroom. Multiple vegetable, flower, and pollinator gardens now grace the property, as well as an apiary and geodesic dome greenhouse which nominating Director of Alternative Education, Dylan Engler, deems the ‘centerpiece to our commitment to agricultural education.' Fifteen acres of walking trails and a hi/low ropes course that abuts the Kennebec River also contribute to the experience.
Often tasked with reengaging students who have been disengaged from their education, the team leads the charge by revealing the ‘why' of their students' learning. This includes showing them where their food comes from, who grows it, and how to dig in and do it themselves. Giving the students an opportunity to do this kind of hands-on learning is one of the first steps taken to reignite their curiosity and critical thinking, with the goal of relating their learning in the classroom back to the immediate world around them and getting involved in their local communities and food web.
Other agricultural elements that have been implemented by the team at Marti Stevens include aquaponic and hydroponic test systems within the greenhouse, student-built bird and duck houses on and around the trails abutting the Kennebec River, a Spring unit on maple sugaring using trees around campus, and a student-built chicken coop that houses 30-40 meat chickens twice a year, with the harvests being donated to families and/or sold as a fundraiser.
The learning doesn't stop at on-campus activities, though. This team of teachers makes sure to get their students hands-on learning experience during multiple field trips throughout the school year. They've been out on lobster boats to learn about Aqua-Tourism, they've built and donated an ice shack to Lake St. George state park, they've gone to Greany's to learn about the poultry butchering process, and they make an annual pilgrimage to the Common Ground Fair to support MOFGA in setting up/tearing down.
It's easy to understand how the team brings so much agriculture to the student learning experience when you learn about them outside of their role as teachers – it's truly one of their passions. Josh Harris keeps laying hens that he raised with his kids. Tristen Hinkle maintains multiple vegetable gardens throughout the Summer in addition to raising laying hens, milking goats, and keeping honeybees. Jim Goodwin raises beef cattle and has also raised pigs, and Ashley MacDonald has raised laying hens. With everyone sharing their personal knowledge and life experience with their students, the connection with agriculture and the outdoors not only becomes deeper, but also more meaningful.
Congratulations to this years Maine Agriculture in the Classroom Teachers of the Year!