Image: Manchester School Principal Danielle Donnini (left) and Fourth Grade Teacher/Awardee, Stacey Sanborn (right).
Stacey Sanborn, a fourth-grade teacher at Manchester School in Windham, has had a lifelong passion for gardening, especially as it alleviates food insecurity. She’s passed that love on to her students. It is for her innovative and creative approach that Sanborn has been awarded the Maine Agriculture In The Classroom Teacher of the Year (MAITC) Award for 2022.
The MAITC organization singled out Sanborn as a teacher who incorporates agricultural education in the classroom while at the same time, aligning it with core curriculum standards in science, math, social studies, and art. But perhaps just as importantly, Sanborn also introduces the importance of food insecurity and how it affects others’ lives.
Sanborn said incorporating gardening as part of the curriculum is important because Maine is a farming and aquaculture state, and students get to experience how much we are all a part of something bigger and how life is interrelated.
“Teaching students about agriculture helps them to develop the understanding of where our food comes from,” she said. “Students can see the importance of protecting a long Maine tradition of farming. It gets them out of the classroom and into the outdoors where the students are motivated learners with plenty of opportunity for fun and hands-on experiences.”
Her students are involved in all parts of the gardening process – from seed to harvest – and as they do so, they learn the traditional “reading, writing, and arithmetic.” Ways in which the conventional curriculum is a part of the gardening program include activities such as composting and soil experiments, pollination, keeping detailed records, data collection, and analysis to name just a few. Sanborn also points out that the social studies curriculum plays a strong role in Manchester School’s agriculture program.
“Gardening offers the guiding principles of being part of a community and being an active problem solver,” she said. “Doing something for others – even if it is something small – can have a big impact.”
Some of what the students grow, they get to sample, making some of their favorite recipes such as carrot muffins and “Amazing Carrot Soup.” What they can’t use in the cafeteria, they give to the RSU 14 nutrition program and the Windham Food Pantry. But the social responsibility the students learn in Sanborn’s class doesn’t end there.
“A former student-gardener who lived with food insecurity started their own garden at home and were so successful they were able to share produce with other families in need,” Sanborn said.
The Manchester School teacher says she feels very honored to be a part of this program and is grateful for the recognition from MAITC, however, she believes this is not her award alone.
“I must recognize a former colleague, Master Gardener, and a great mentor, Pam Lenz,” Sanborn said. “She has put so much effort into this program and is a major part of its success. Pam has helped me to achieve everything I’ve done, and it is a true partnership. She was instrumental in keeping the program going during the early days of the pandemic when schools were not meeting in person. She continued by starting seedlings, planting them in the garden, and creating gardening videos that were used as part of the remote learning experience. Pam is just as an important part of this award and I couldn’t have done it without her.”