Julie Janecka, a fifth-grade teacher at East Picacho Elementary School, was one of eight teachers from across the country who recently earned the 2018 Excellence in Teaching about Agriculture Award from the National Agriculture in the Classroom Organization (NAITCO). Janecka won the award based on her ability to teach various general education topics using agricultural concepts from a nine-week, chile-themed curriculum she developed and refined over the past three years.

Ag Teacher of the Year

NM Ag in the Classroom 2018 Teacher of the Year Julie Janecka accepts flowers from Traci Curry of Ag in the Classroom who delivered the flowers to notify Janecka that she won the national award. (from left to right) NMAITC Southern Director Traci Curry, Teacher Julie Janecka.

“It takes an immense amount of talent and dedication to develop such a comprehensive, cross-curricular approach to teaching. It’s evident from her [Janecka’s] work that she is committed to providing the best educational experience for our students,” said LCPS Superintendent Dr. Greg Ewing. “We’re honored to have an educator of her caliber educating our students and supporting our staff.”

As part of the national recognition, Janecka and the seven other award recipients will be honored at the NAITCO Conference June 27-29 in Portland, Maine. Janecka is the only award recipient from the Western United States.

“Ms. Janecka is so deserving of this recognition” said Traci Curry, New Mexico Agriculture in the Classroom (NMAITC) Southern Director. “Her lesson plan provides one of most comprehensive educational experiences I’ve ever seen at an elementary school. Not only does it facilitate learning about a variety of topics, it also helps the students understand the hard work of local farmers and ranchers.”

Janeka qualified for the national award after being named the 2018 New Mexico Ag in the Classroom Teacher of the Year by NMAITC. As part of the state recognition, Janecka was honored at the New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau’s 100th Annual Conference in Albuquerque, NM, she received a customized belt buckle and a monetary stipend from NMAITC to cover travel expenses to the national conference.

As part of the nine-week, agriculture-themed curriculum, students learn science, social studies and math concepts while simultaneously learning about a variety of agricultural concepts such as planting, soil science, weather, botany and agricultural technology. The nine-week unit features many hands-on activities and concludes with the entire school and community enjoying a chile-themed luncheon.

Since the awards program was designed to recognize non-agriculture teachers who incorporate agriculture into general education curriculum, the competition was open to kindergarten- through 12th-grade general education teachers who use agricultural concepts to teach reading, writing, math, science, social studies and other topics, according to NAITCO officials.

“These teachers are examples of how using agricultural concepts in the classroom can successfully deliver important reading, writing, math, science and social studies lessons to students,” said Dr. Victoria LeBeaux, the NAITCO Program Leader for USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which provides federal leadership and annual funding for NAITCO. “The real-life connections teachers make by using items students use every day resonates with them.”

NAITCO is a non-profit organization representing Agriculture in the Classroom programs in most of the 50 states across the country. The national program, under the direction of the United States Department of Agriculture, supports the state programs by providing a network that seeks to improve agricultural literacy — awareness, knowledge, and appreciation — among PreK-12 teachers and their students, according to the NAITCO website.

-LCPS Communications Coordinator Paul Dahlgren, pdahlgren@lcps.net, (575) 527-5808