Melissa James, a high school science teacher from Center Point–Urbana Community Schools, is the recipient of the Iowa Excellence in Teaching about Agriculture award presented by the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation (IALF). She was recognized last month at a ceremony at the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation board of directors’ meeting.

James is in her 31st year of teaching, having taught in Springville Schools and Center Point–Urbana Schools. She joined Center Point–Urbana in 2002. 

“Melissa is the model teacher to showcase how we can inspire educators to integrate agriculture into their classrooms,” said Kelly Foss, IALF executive director. “She has shown a great ability to help students see how agriculture is connected to the everyday science in their lives, in an exciting and engaging way.”

James, who didn’t grow up on a farm or in Iowa, expressed to the IALF board members that she has greatly benefited from the IALF resources and partnering with local Agriculture in the Classroom contacts to bring agriculture to life in her classroom. 

“I’ve always wanted to incorporate agriculture, but I didn’t grow up with any agriculture connections,” she said. “I appreciate the vast resources that IALF offers, including the summer workshop classes and all of the in-classroom materials.” 

James integrates the National Agricultural Literacy Outcomes (NALOs) into several different areas of classroom programs. In biology classes, students studied GMO issues, microbiomes and the differences between cow and human digestion. 

Students in advanced biology classes had the opportunity to study zoonotic diseases, bacteria (in food, microbiomes and crops) and learn about DNA (in genetic engineering and Bt cotton). Botany students participated in a sod farm and FarmChat program, studied nitrogen cycles, ethanol production, root and soil structures, and how different events (COVID, tariffs, derecho) affected agriculture. 

Through a local Agriculture in the Classroom partnership, James worked with Linn County Farm Bureau to educate students about conservation, cover crops, nitrogen, GMOs, specialty crops, hydroponics and more. 

“Melissa is a wonderful science teacher who incorporates agriculture and real-life examples into her curriculum each day,” said Morgan Hibbs, current middle school agriculture education teacher for Clear Creek Amana and former Linn County Education Outreach Director. “I worked with Melissa for four years in my previous Linn County role. I had the privilege to see firsthand how Melissa uses cross-curriculum strategies to enhance her students’ experiences.” 

Additionally, James developed a successful garden club where students are responsible for seed selection, planting, nurturing and harvesting their crops. “The students interact with the community to share joy through their annual flower bouquets,” added Hibbs. “Melissa is constantly reflecting and reviewing her content to make it relevant for students.”

James said students in the garden program have learned about topics ranging from soil and seed selection to harvesting. “They’re extremely proud about the vegetables they’ve been able to grow and produce for their school and local food pantry.”

James will receive a $500 stipend to support her continued efforts of integrating agriculture into her classroom curriculum. She will also attend the National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference to be held in Salt Lake City in June.