West Des Moines, Iowa – January 8, 2024 – Melissa James, a high school science teacher from Center Point – Urbana Community Schools is the recipient of the Iowa Excellence in Teaching about Agriculture award presented by the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation (IALF). James competed against other elementary, middle school, and high school teachers from across Iowa to earn the honor. She was recognized at a ceremony at the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation board of directors’ meeting held December 19, 2023, in West Des Moines, Iowa. 

James is in her 31st year of teaching, having taught in Springville Schools and Center Point – Urbana Schools. She joined Center Point – Urbana in 2002. James earned her Bachelor of Science from Iowa State University and her Master of Secondary Science Education from the University of Northern Iowa.

 “Melissa is the model teacher to showcase how we can inspire educators to integrate agriculture into their classrooms,” said Kelly Foss, IALF Executive Director. “We are very pleased to present Melissa with this year’s Excellence in Teaching about Agriculture award! She has shown a great ability to help students see how agriculture is connected to the everyday science in their lives, in an exciting and engaging way.”

James, who didn’t grow up on a farm or in Iowa, expressed to the IALF board members that she has greatly benefited from the IALF resources and partnering with local Agriculture in the Classroom contacts to bring agriculture to life in her classroom. “I’ve always wanted to incorporate agriculture, but I didn’t grow up with any agriculture connections,” said James. “I appreciate the vast resources that IALF offers including the summer workshop classes and all of the in-classroom materials.”  

James integrates the National Agricultural Literacy Outcomes (NALOs) into several different areas of classroom programs. In biology classes, students studied GMO issues, microbiomes, and the differences between cow and human digestion. Students in advanced biology classes had the opportunity to study zoonotic diseases, bacteria (in food, microbiomes, and crops), and learn about DNA (in genetic engineering, Bt cotton). Botany students participated in a sod farm and FarmChat program, studied nitrogen cycles, ethanol production, root and soil structures, and how different events (COVID, tariffs, derecho) affected agriculture.  

Through a local Agriculture in the Classroom partnership, James worked with Linn County Farm Bureau connections to educate students about conservation, cover crops, nitrogen, GMOs, specialty crops, hydroponics, and more. "Melissa is a wonderful science teacher who incorporates agriculture and real-life examples into her curriculum each day,” said Morgan Hibbs, current middle school agriculture education teacher for Clear Creek Amanda and former Linn County Education Outreach Director. “I worked with Melissa for four years in my previous Linn County role. I had the privilege to see firsthand how Melissa uses cross-curriculum strategies to enhance her student's experiences.”  

Additionally, James developed a successful garden club where students are responsible for seed selection, planting, nurturing and harvesting their crops. “The students interact with the community to share joy through their annual flower bouquets,” added Morgan. “Melissa is constantly reflecting and reviewing her content to make it relevant for students.” 

James added, “Students in the garden program have learned about soil and seed selection to harvesting. They’re extremely proud about the vegetables they’ve been able to grow and produce for their school and local food pantry.” 

James will receive a $500 stipend to support her continued efforts of integrating agriculture into her classroom curriculum. She will also attend the National Agriculture in the Classroom conference to be held in Salt Lake City, Utah in June 2024. 

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About the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation
IALF serves as a central resource for educators and volunteers who teach Iowa’s students about agriculture. The mission is to educate Iowans, with a focus on youth, regarding the breadth and global significance of agriculture. Iowa is a leading producer of agricultural products that are essential to feed a growing world population, estimated to reach more than 9 billion by 2050. IALF believes it is important for all Iowans to understand the essential role agriculture has in their lives. Through Agriculture in the Classroom efforts IALF engages with teachers and students.  

IALF is supported by agricultural stakeholders, including the Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Turkey Federation, Corteva Agriscience, GROWMARK, the Iowa Beef Industry Council, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area. For more information visit IALF online at www.IowaAgLiteracy.org, on Facebook, and X (formerly Twitter).

Photo: IALF Board of Directors, IALF staff, and Melissa James