Tara Berescik, agriculture teacher at Tri-Valley Central School in Grahamsville New York, is enjoying a year full of accolades. Not only was she selected as the NAAE Region VI Agriscience Teacher of the Year, but she was also named ACTE Teacher of the Year for 2014.
One of the innovations for which Berescik has garnered praise is her long-term collaboration with Cornell University's Good Agricultural Practices program. The GAP program, which is implemented by 26 states, reduces the risk of foodborne illnesses in fruits and vegetables by educating growers and packers about the causes and how to minimize risk in their products. In collaboration with agriculture teachers from California and Florida, Berescik has created a plant and food science curriculum that helps students develop a concrete understanding of the goals and principles of GAP.
The curriculum teaches students the safety, sanitation, and science of food. Berescik collaborates with local producers and community gardens to provide the supplies needed to develop and process food products. Berescik could simply lecture about GAP concept, but she finds it much more effective to have students experience the concepts through activities.
"I have worked hard to make students see the importance of hands-on learning," she said.
For instance, students completing the GAP curriculum have developed meat fillers and spice substitutes for individuals with food allergies. They also have worked directly with Tri-Valley's cafeteria director to offer trials of food products in the cafeteria. This requires them to determine caloric content as well as nutritional values for their recipes. Through the development of these food products, the students learn the importance of food safety -- a primary goal of the GAP program.
Students also perform experiments with ingredients to develop new food products, which they market and sell at the school's AgFood Concession Stand -- another endeavor of the agriculture department. Recently, Berescik's students assessed the differences in homogenized and non-homogenized milk used for cheese production, as well as different varieties of flour used to make mozzarella cheese sticks. During their experiments, the students learned the proper way to process and handle foods for consumption. This taught them another key GAP concept - understanding how to reduce foodborne illness risks.
Berescik has traveled all across the United States showcasing the GAP plant and food science curriculum. She also presents workshops to agriculture teachers at no cost in order to help them develop their own plant and food science curriculum. She believes in incorporating all learning styles, while providing students with a strong background in science.
The Agriscience Teacher of the Year Award is sponsored by Potash. To learn more about NAAE award programs and see what other teachers were named as award winners, visit naae.org/resources/awards.
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