Students ‘come alive’ at Maryland Sunshine Farm | News

CUMBERLAND, Md. – Kira Rinker was a student at Crellin Elementary School in Oakland, Maryland, several years ago when the facility started a farm on its campus.

Today, Rinker, 17, is in 11th grade and visits Crellin’s Sunshine Farm to teach two girls at the school how to train and care for lambs.

“The farm was a huge part of my elementary school experience,” Rinker said via email and added that she’s worked with lambs for 12 years. “It is a passion of mine. Showing and winning at the fair has been a rewarding experience for me and an experience I want the girls to have.”

In addition to sheep, Crellin’s multi-acre outdoor classroom includes a meadow, ponds and trail system.

Students and staff liken the school’s farm to a home, family and heart of the community that teaches life skills including sustainability, responsibility, confidence, respect and work ethic.

The farm incorporates practical math, economic and science lessons into school curricula.

Kindergarten students explore vegetables in the Crellin Elementary School garden with Kristin Spiker on Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021. (Photo from University of Maryland Extension office)

It also provides social and emotional benefits for the children.

Some kids read to the sheep, and counseling often takes place in the barnyard.

Students at the school learn earth-friendly practices, including collection of water in rain barrels, and make compost from the barnyard to fertilize vegetables they grow to eat and share with the community.

Green Ribbon award

The Maryland State Department of Education nominated Crellin Elementary to receive a 2022 US Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Award for Maryland.

According to Crellin officials, the aim of the program is to inspire schools, districts and institutions of higher education to strive for 21st-century excellence by highlighting promising school sustainability practices and resources that all can employ.

The award recognizes schools, districts and higher education institutions that reduce environmental impact and costs; improve the health and wellness of schools, students and staff; and provide effective environmental and sustainability education.

Sunshine Farm at Crellin Elementary

Kindergarten student Braydan Smith pulls a carrot from the ground on Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021. (Submitted photo)

In a letter from MSDE, Bruce A. Lesh, director, social studies, science, environmental literacy and disciplinary literacy, stated, “Your school has implemented practices, procedures, and programs that promote a healthier, more sustainable learning environment, foster wellness, and offer effective environmental learning. Your work has made positive environmental and health impacts in your school community, along with improving students’ environmental literacy.”

The letter also credits Crellin’s “farm to school” program.

“Creating a healthy school environment is a priority to our school community and is essential in our efforts to educate our students,” Dana McCauley, Crellin Elementary principal, said via press release. “The teaching practices that take place utilizing our school farm, our outdoor classroom and the community promote real-life, authentic learning. The culture of the school is a product of dedicated staff and community members who go above and beyond to ensure the learning our students do today prepares them to be the leaders of tomorrow.”

Garrett County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Baker said school officials “were thrilled to learn of Crellin Elementary being honored” for a Green Ribbon School award.

“They are committed to educating the whole child with a real-world instructional model,” she said via the release. “Our heartfelt congratulations go out to the Crellin students, staff, parents, and the community.”

Honorees of the Green Ribbon Award will be announced on Earth Day, April 22.

Sunshine Farm at Crellin Elementary

First grade student Jaxon Schmidt plays with lamb Misty at Crellin Elementary School on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021. (Submitted photo)

Building a farm

While at the Intel School of Distinction Ceremony in Washington, DC, in 2011, Crellin staff learned from an elementary school in Kansas that had an agriculture program, McCauley said.

“We were intrigued with the program and sent one of our teachers, Karen Gilpin, to the school to learn how the program operated,” she said. “Karen was inspired and in turn inspired us to pursue creating an agriculture program.”

Crellin used funds from an Intel award and through a grant from the State Farm Youth Advisory Board to construct a barn and a greenhouse.

“While this was happening several staff members attended the Maryland Ag in the Classroom weeklong class and the National Ag in the Classroom conference for ideas on how to incorporate agriculture into our lessons,” McCauley said. “We call our farm Sunshine Farm because Sunshine is the original name of the town of Crellin.”

The school later built another barn, added an orchard and expanded its community vegetable garden.

“In the greenhouse, we installed a hydroponic system to grow lettuce and tomatoes,” McCauley said.

Sunshine Farm at Crellin Elementary

Students work with plants at Crellin Elementary School. (Submitted photo)

“We currently have four sheep, two lambs and hens,” she said. “In the past we have had goats, an alpaca and a calf.”

Students are responsible for daily chores on the farm.

“They feed and water the animals and keep the barn clean,” McCauley said. “They enjoy playing with the animals on the barnyard playground.”

Students have also been involved with the birth of Sunshine lambs, she said.

“When the wool is sheared students clean and card it to sell,” McCauley said.

One year, wool from Crellin’s farm won a blue ribbon at the annual Garrett County Agriculture Fair.

Community members also visited the school and taught students to knit yarn made from the wool.

“We hatch eggs and keep the hens,” McCauley said and added that the school is certified by the United States Department of Agriculture to sell eggs. “Students collect the eggs and prepare and package them to be sold. They learn to pay bills with the funds they earn.”

Crellin also uses vegetables they grow and eggs in a program that allows students take the food home to eat.

“We also use them in school,” McCauley said of making egg salad and scrambled eggs.

Sunshine Farm at Crellin Elementary

Fourth grade student Tynlea DeWitt cuddles lamb Olaf in the barn at Crellin Elementary School on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. (Submitted photo)

“The Maryland Extension office is a huge resource,” McCauley said.

McCauley has worked at the school for roughly 20 years, during which time she’s witness students realize “tons of aha moments,” she said.

“I have the best job ever,” McCauley said.

Kids ‘come alive’

Susan Friend has worked at Crellin for more than two decades and spent a lot of time on the school’s farm with students.

She is an intervention teacher, which provides specialized support for students in need, at Crellin and in the past taught kindergarten at the school.

“I’ve taught all the grades,” Friend said. “We wear a lot of hats.”

Sunshine Farm at Crellin Elementary

March 18, 2022: First grade students Brody Welch and Bem Agev work with their teacher Emily Hughes to clean the henhouse at Crellin Elementary School on Friday, March 18, 2022. (Submitted photo)

She talked of happy barnyard noises and watching children carry hens like babies.

Crellin students researched for a solar panel device they built that powers a coop door to contain the farm’s free range chickens at night, she said.

Students also raise and hatch chicks.

“A lot of our kids now have chickens at home,” she said of the farm’s inspiration.

Crellin also maintains a trout raise-and-release program that provides for stream studies in an environmental education lab.

Talon Thrift and Brayden Corby

Fifth grade students Talon Thrift and Brayden Corby on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022, cut lettuce grown in a hydroponic system in the greenhouse at Crellin Elementary School. (Submitted photo)

“We built a boardwalk (of recycled milk jugs) to make a trail … for the wetland,” Friend said and added that members of the community helped construct a playground at the school.

“We believe if they build it, they will take care of it, they will respect it,” she said.

The farm allows students to be responsible for something other than themselves, Friend said.

“Some kids that struggle in the classroom … come alive on the farm,” she said.


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