Agriculture science lab visits Green Bank this week
A very unusual semi-trailer parked in front of Green Bank Elementary/Middle School on Monday. The colorful trailer is a beautiful sight for students and teachers because it's the very popular mobile lab and classroom from the West Virginia Farm Bureau.
In the mobile Agricultural Education Science Lab, students conduct experiments focusing on the multitude of agricultural products from West Virginia. The students use the scientific method to develop and test hypotheses during the classes.
The mobile classroom is the brainchild of Helen Hardman, of Buckhannon, who developed the idea while giving classes to her grandchild, who was unable to attend school due to illness.
"Our little granddaughter got critically ill," she said. "She was only four at the time. We have a 400-acre farm and we started taking her on the farm because she wasn't allowed to go to school. Her heart wasn't working right."
Hardman, who worked in the extension service for 17 years and holds a master's degree, started giving classes to her granddaughter on the farm.
"We started doing mini-experiments with her on the farm and I thought, 'someday - I want to develop something like this for the schools.'"
Hardman's granddaughter recovered from her illness and is doing very well.
The retired extension agent went to work finding sponsors for her idea and, within nine months, a dream became reality. Organizations that ponied up support for the mobile classroom include Grainger;the Farm Bureau; the West Virginia State Fair; Farm Credit; Southern States; WVU Extension Service; Harrison County Farm Bureau; Nationwide Insurance; West Virginia Poultry Association; West Virginia Beef Check-off; West Virginia Farm Bureau Women's Committee and the Berkeley County Farm Bureau and Women's Committee.
Science is one of the most difficult subjects for schoolteachers to teach to standards, according to Hardman.
"Everyone in my family is in the school system and it's so hard for teachers to meet that science standard because the supplies you have to get are very costly, so this is one way they can help meet some of the science standards," she said.
Students learn the multitude of products that find their source in agricultural commodities.
"They learn that a tire has stearic acid from a beef cow," Hardman explained. "When we harvest that animal, 99 percent of the animal is used for something, like insulin. They learn we just don't use beef cows for meat but there's so many more facets of that."
The classes also cover aspects of agricultural environmental protection.
"We've taught them what's eco-friendly and how scientists in the agriculture world have developed products that are biodegradable," she said. "Now, instead of plastic - we use cornstarch plastic, which dissolves back into the earth and puts nutrients back into the soil. We teach them a lot about resources and how you have to respect those resources, such as soil and water, so that we will have these commodities down the road."
Generous local donors made the Green Bank visit possible. Mrs. Emma Beard, of Green Bank, donated $1,000 of the $1,800 fee and another anonymous donor and the school paid the rest. The fee is necessary to purchase supplies, pay transportation costs and pay the teacher for the mobile classroom. Beard's husband, Moro, was a longtime president of the Pocahontas County Farm Bureau.
"When you break that down - I can have 600 kids in a week," Hardman said. "So, you figure, that's going to be two or three dollars a student."
Feedback has been completely positive, according to Hardman.
"Every school we've been to, we've had excellent evaluations," she said. "The biggest complaint is, 'stay longer - it isn't long enough.' Every school we've been to - bar none - has said, 'we want you back.'"
There is currently a long waiting list for a mobile classroom visit. School administrators interested in hosting the Farm Bureau mobile lab should contact Helen Hardman at 304-472-2080, ext. 311 or email@example.com.