HARVE DE GRACE, Md. — The Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation, Inc. (MAEF) has selected Erin Burrell, a Kindergarten teacher at Ashburton Elementary, Montgomery County Public Schools for the 2021 Velma Clark Excellence in Teaching About Ag Award. This award honors one Maryland teacher that exemplifies dedication in engaging students in agricultural education experiences in non-agricultural curricula.
In the Spring of 2021, Erin Burrell established and launched a six-week Virtual Green Thumb Program for approximately 40 students in grades K-5 during distance learning. During the Ashburton Local Summer School Program in July 2021, Burrell created and taught a weeklong Science and Gardening Course to each K-5 class for four weeks, totaling 165 students. Continuing their agriculture education efforts, Burrell founded the Green Thumb afterschool club for students grades 3-5 and has managed the school’s courtyard garden year-round since 2017. Currently, Burrell coordinates the Ashburton Garden Mentor Program with seven local high school students who in turn earn Student Service-Learning volunteer hours. For the last two years Burrell’s Kindergarten class has participated in the local RentaCoop program. This program highlighted embryology and chicken care in the classroom. Burrell’s efforts continue beyond youth agriculture education as she trained staff in June 2019 on ways in which their students interact with the garden in different and meaningful ways through the Professional Learning Community.
Ashburton Elementary School Principal, Greg Mullenholz said “Erin Burrell is an outstanding educator who has brought the world of agriculture to the students in her classroom and those across the school. Her enthusiasm for and dedication to agriculture and the environment has transformed our school and the opportunities provided to our staff and students.” Burrell has a strong passion for teaching and learning about conservation, environmental stewardship and gardening. Focusing specifically on her work with the Virtual Green Thumb Club project, Burrell continued her efforts with the Green Thumb Gardening Program without the ability to physically access the school garden during the 2020-2021 school year. Virtually, Burrell was able to promote cultivating plants, spending time outdoors, and eating a healthy diet for students in grades K-5. This Virtual Green Thumb Club was funded with the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation’s Urban Garden Grant. The school garden continues to be a source of community pride and showcases the dedication Burrell and her fellow staff and students have in caring for and maintaining the garden. Burrell’s reach continues beyond the walls of Ashburton Elementary through participation by parents and alumni in watering, weeding, and harvesting throughout the summer months.
With the award, Erin Burrell receives a $500 classroom stipend and a trip to the National Ag in the Classroom Conference in Saratoga Springs, New York in June 2022. As our 2021 winner, she will be nominated for the 2023 National Excellence in Teaching About Agriculture Award, sponsored by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the National Agriculture in the Classroom. This competitive national award recognizes exceptional teachers selected at the state level for their successful efforts in teaching agricultural concepts.
–Victoria Stone, Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation