Going the extra mile for students

Rod Just, fourth-grade teacher at Hillsboro Elementary School, explains soil conservation practices applied to this field during his field tour last spring. Courtesy photo
Rod Just, fourth-grade teacher at Hillsboro Elementary School, explains soil conservation practices applied to this field during his field tour last spring. Courtesy photo

Going the extra mile?literally and figuratively?is a key reason Rod Just was named the 2015 Conserva?tion Teacher Award winner by the Marion County Soil Con?servation District.

A fourth-grade teacher at Hillsboro Elementary School, Just developed and led a tour of area fields to show his students how conservation practices are applied in real life.

Following the annual EnviroFest event in Marion?s Central Park last spring, Just loaded his students onto a bus, then stopped at several fields and gave students the chance to experience soil conservation strategies up-close and personal.

?I had gone around and mapped out a course of different fields that show these different examples of farmers who did terraces, grass border strips, hedges and waterways.

?We?d all get out and talk about it and compare that with what we talked about in class,? Just said. ?The kids could actually get out and see it, and even walk across the terraces and walk in waterways.?

Back in the classroom, Just would then invite each student to create a poster about conservation for the annual MCCD contest.

?I try to talk with them about what farmers do as far as how they protect the soil by putting up terraces and waterways, grass bumper strips,? Just said. ?But it?s hard for kids to understand that if they don?t get a chance to see it.?

Rod Just: ?Kids need to realize that food doesn?t just come from the grocery stores. They get to actually see where it?s grown and see examples of how it?s grown, and how soil conservation will impact the food being grown.? Don Ratzlaff / Free Press
Rod Just: ?Kids need to realize that food doesn?t just come from the grocery stores. They get to actually see where it?s grown and see examples of how it?s grown, and how soil conservation will impact the food being grown.? Don Ratzlaff / Free Press

Learning about soil conservation is one of the state outcomes for fourth graders in Kansas. The combination of classroom teaching, EnviroFest, the annual poster contest?and now a field tour to boot?work together to make an impression on his students.

Just also invites staff from the Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Marion to demonstrate their rain simulator to show students how rainfall affects soil, both good and bad.

?I think it?s really important for kids to know where their food comes from,? Just said about the value of a soil conservation emphasis. ?Kids need to realize that food doesn?t just come from the grocery stores. They get to actually see where it?s grown and see examples of how it?s grown, and how soil conservation will impact the food being grown.?

Just also connects the value of soil conservation to students? personal economic future.

?Early on we study about economy,? he said. ?As kids learn about the value of money and economy, they can see how it all starts to fit together. If the farmers have good soil, good fields, good crops?there?s going to be more money in the economy that is going to help other people and also keep their own food costs low.?

Soil conservation is an expression of his personal convictions as well.

?It allows me to teach about the stewardship of God?s creation, and it allows me the opportunity to teach about nature and the outdoors which I really enjoy.?

Just, who operates a 1,000-acre farm in addition to his teaching role, appreciates the support he gets from the USD 410 adminstration to expose students to agricultural realities.

?We?re really fortunate that we have administrators that support our kids learning these things, and allow me to take the time, and pay a bus driver, to do those things,? he said.

With the possibility of adding a small school farm at HES in the near future, Just said agricultural education and awareness will be enhanced even more.

?This all fits together with that,? Just said.

Now in his 22nd year at HES, Just sees the MCCD teaching award as a way to highlight and affirm the importance of educating kids about soil conservation at an early age, even if most students will never live on a farm.

?It?s a combination of recognizing me as a teacher, but also recognizing the value of what we are teaching,? he said of the award.

?I?m only one of all the good teachers in this school. This is going beyond that to recognize soil conservation as a part of it.?