Having a farm as a classroom isn’t too much of a stretch for McKinney. The farm manager and guide at Hershey Montessori School grew up on an 85-acre farm in Petersburg, Ohio and started working in environmental education right out of college. Today, she teaches chemistry, physical science and biology to students ages 12 to 18 on the 97-acre Huntsburg Campus farm. Whether she’s teaching a chemistry lesson about water quality or supervising student helpers on the farm, McKinney guides students to be informed and engaged citizens of the world.
When I arrived here, I arrived with a pregnant goat.
The way I found out about Hershey was I was working at a local organic farm in Hiram. A lot of what we do here at Hershey is get the kids out talking to experts. So one of the places they would bring the kids would be the farm I was working.
When I interviewed here, they knew me through that program. I guess they weren’t surprised when I said, “Oh by the way, do you have space for my goat?” And that was a “Yes, we do.” Now we have about 10 to 12 goats.
We always have kids spend time on the farm. Anywhere from three to five or maybe even eight to 10 kids come out of their classes to help. We need to go get grain, or maybe today we’re in the woodshop because a door broke and we need to reconstruct the door.
Our high school kids did a climate change project. They wanted to talk to the public. They wanted to tell people more about what they know and why it’s important and what they can do.
We ended up at the Holden Arboretum. They have a new climate change garden, so it was actually rather perfect. We set up with some posters and some displays and engaged the public as they were walking by.
It’s getting them engagement outside of the classroom, engagement with real problems, real issues and people who can help them figure things out.
These kids will remember what their topics were because they had to talk to the public about them.
It’s that kind of connection I’m always trying to make: How does this apply to me? Why is it important?
They really are independent learners who are able to effectively work within a group dynamic. It always impresses me how engaged they are and how they grab the bull by the horns and say, “Yes, we’re going to do this.”
My goal is that they can advocate for themselves, for what they need.