As fires rushed through northwest Oklahoma last week, Robin Dunn and her husband were moving their cattle to safety in a field of green wheat.
“We lost 200 acres of grass, but we didn’t lose any of our cattle. It could have been much worse,” Mrs. Dunn said.
“We have plenty of hay, so we are much better off than some of our neighbors,” she said.
The fires came to within 200 feet of the Dunn home near Laverne. Mrs. Dunn teaches third grade at Laverne Elementary. Many of her students were affected by the fire. One of her students lost a dog, and another told of a harrowing escape driving through the fire with his family. Many students in the district lost homes.
The fires provided a teaching opportunity for Mrs. Dunn.
“We talked about the impact of the fires on agriculture, with so many cattle and so much grassland lost,” she said. “In January, when we had ice storms, we also talked about the impact of ice on agriculture, though there wasn’t as much damage. We did lose power for a week, though.”
Mrs. Dunn has taught in the Laverne district for 28 years. Three of those years were at Gale before that school consolidated with the Laverne district.
Mrs. Dunn did not grow up on a farm, but “I always wanted to marry a farmer, and I did,” she laughed.
Although Laverne is in the middle of an agricultural area, she only has three students who live on farms. Agriculture is very much a part of the community, though. Some of her students' parents work on hog farms in the area. Some work for the coop or in other agriculture-related businesses, she said.
Despite the large amount of agriculture in the area, Mrs. Dunn is amazed at how little her students know about agriculture.
“They just think their food comes from the grocery store,” she said. “If my students have so little awareness, even though they are surrounded by agriculture, it makes me wonder about students in places like New York City.”
Mrs. Dunn has been involved with OAITC almost since its inception. She attended one of the first OAITC teacher institutes at OSU, about 20 years ago, she said.
At the institute she saw a demonstration at the OSU Agronomy Research Station of then newly-developed Greenseek technology that uses computer and satellite technogy to tell farmers exactly what nutrients their soil needs and where so they use fertilizer only where it is needed. Several years later Mrs. Dunn’s son-in-law, a student at OSU at the time, took the Greenseek to India to demonstrate its usefulness to Indian farmers. Since then a handheld version has been developed.
She draws ideas from several of the lessons and resources on the website.
“I sat down and tried to figure out which lessons I use,” she said. “At first I didn’t think I used that many, but then I started looking through them and realized how many ideas from the lessons I have incorporated into my teaching over the years.”
Most recently she used the OAITC dust bowl lesson, “Dark Days on the Prairie.”
“We talked about all the changes that have come about in agriculture because of the Dust Bowl,” she said.
One of her students who is most affected by activities and lessons related to agriculture is a young man who dislikes most subjects, even though he is very smart.
“He loves farming, though, so if If I relate it to farming, he is happy to do it. So I present him with math problems related to agriculture—problems about fencing a field or caring for cattle, for example.”
Her favorite lessons are related to food—ice cream, butter, fruits and veggies, eggs, etc. “Anything that is hands-on engages their attention,” she said.
Mrs. Dunn has been on OAITC summer tours and most years attends the state conference. She applied for a grant for the first time this year and was approved. She enjoys receiving the monthly newsletter and often uses the “Ag in Art” feature to help fulfill the art requirement mandated by the state. Although she has been involved with OAITC for so many years, Mrs. Dunn says she is always learning new things.