The main product produced in the region remains agriculture – poultry and beef cattle – but local schools are heavily into gardens these days.

Georgia Grown, a state program promoting crops grown in the state, was started by Gary Black, agriculture commissioner and one of our own who is from Commerce. Schools in Commerce, Jackson County, Barrow County, Banks County and Madison County are winners of ag awards in the past few years – some of them every year.

The emphasis on local produce is, of course, aimed at getting kids to eat better. But it also is aimed at teaching students where things come from.

Some students don’t know that milk comes from cows, for example. The area’s FFA and 4-H programs help, but the gardens that have sprouted in the past few years teach kids about chickens and roosters, cows and milk, and all sorts of plants that grow and provide food for all of us.

It is one example of “learning” that can happen in class, out of class and can combine all sorts of subjects — science, math, engineering, nutrition – while also letting kids get a bit dirty and sometimes, muddy.

Notice in the paragraph above, STEM subjects can be used daily in farming. Farmers have to be scientists and mathematicians and they have to get their hands dirty. It doesn’t take long to understand that farming is difficult work.

Diana Cole, who is active in the Statham Elementary School program, said recently, “The garden is a wonderful place for lessons.” Amen.

The gardens are one example of learning that can go on daily in schools.

A lot of classes now seek to involve the students – “hands-on” a current buzz word. The notion is that kids learn more and better if they are involved in the class.

Acting out historical scenes is pretty common now. Most elementary schools and some middle schools involve kids in researching figures in history and dressing up like them to say words they said, or might have said.

Jefferson schools host an event each year that involves a figure in history and a costume for a 21st century student. Bear Creek Middle School in Statham hosts a Civil War night and kids have projects that involve creating a Civil War site and learning all about it. Those are just examples. Similar projects can be found in any school system.

Those of us who studied Shakespeare in sophomore English by reading a play would not recognize the Bard’s experience in today’s schools. A number of Broadway plays have been produced from variations on a Shakespearean theme. Similar readings – and dramas – can be seen in our schools.

The emphasis now on “college and career centers (also known as academies)” seeks to get kids immersed in a topic – that “hands-on” experience. From welding to mechatronics (a word that has existed only in the last 20 or so years); from cosmetology to culinary arts, students now are taught the “getting their hands dirty” parts and learn about running a business and mathematical equations.

I’d never make it in today’s classes. You have to know more and you have to be able to use it. We talked about the latter, but I seldom had to demonstrate.

I often tell educators I could no longer get into a college. I wouldn’t meet the qualifications. The University of Georgia, which was a party school not long ago, is now a serious academic institution.

The University of Tennessee, where I went, now admits its freshman class each year from among the brightest kids who apply – and many of them can’t get into other schools. A number of schools no longer accept standardized test scores as admission requirements – the courses taken in high school are more important. Being able to write a cogent essay is important, and most folks still can’t do that.

Ron Bridgeman is a reporter for MainStreet Newspapers. Send him email at ron@mainstreetnews.com.

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