Beth Sletta, a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) teacher at Jefferson Elementary School in New Ulm, Minn., has been awarded the Minnesota Agriculture in the Classroom 2019 Outstanding Teacher Award.

The award is given annually to a Minnesota K-12 teacher who exemplifies excellence in the classroom and a passion for teaching agriculture. Sletta will receive a $500 stipend and up to $1,500 in expenses to attend the 2019 National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference in Little Rock, Ark., in June.

Sletta was selected for her efforts in immersing her 650 elementary students in agriculture through their STEM lab and schoolyard garden. This annual award is sponsored by the MAITC Foundation.

As the school garden coordinator, Sletta incorporates food and agriculture concepts into core subjects. She has 10 fabric beds with vegetables and herbs, nine 4-foot X 8-foot raised beds with flowers, herb and berries and four apple trees near the garden that provide her students with firsthand experience in growing food. One of her projects is an outdoor classroom that is being built adjacent to the garden. This structure will allow all teachers in her building to use the garden as they teach.

“I believe that using more ag-related lessons has revitalized me as a teacher. I am so excited to share things I have learned, and I am eager to try new ideas with my students. Ag-related lessons encompass all parts of STEM and are a perfect match” Sletta said.

Sletta says she feels that educators have a responsibility to teach students about the importance of agriculture. STEM lessons infused with agriculture have become a large part of her curricula throughout the school year.

She says this process of integrating agriculture into her STEM classroom has had quite an impact on her students. Many students have encouraged their families to start learning more about agriculture at home. Sletta has received e-mails from parents and grandparents asking questions about how to start growing food or how to prepare a vegetable that their child talked about after trying it at school. Students and parents have shared photos of their own gardens and produce. The children are proud of what they have learned and passed on to their own families.

The MAITC program is a 30-year established public/private partnership based at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.