This is a story about how Janette Yribarren struck a match. It took a while to run it along the box's sandpaper side, but by the time she'd finally done it — heard the match hiss, spark and glow — she was fueled on two things: exasperation and potential.
Her motivation came from statements made by agriculturally uninformed individuals talking about agriculture as the great evil. She grew frustrated that outside those actually farming the land, no one seemed to understand or appreciate what her family — what every farming family — provided to the nation and world.
The potential Janette saw only came after exasperation had reached a crescendo. But for whatever reason, after she'd suffered foolish comments for so long, the idea came: educate the kids! If the adults were beyond reasoning, their children weren't. Education was the key and educators held the power to open the door.
“I believed that if teachers were provided with accurate and factual information their classrooms could become our stage and the students our audience,” she says. “We had to start educating if agriculture is to remain a viable industry and cotton a profitable commodity.”
And so, after striking the match in pitch black, Janette reached out and lit a candle. Her efforts are now helping teachers fan the fires in young minds as they teach the core subjects using cotton as their subject matter.
“Farmers are good and productive people, concerned about our environmental future no less than non-farmers. We've been farming for 29 years, and we are fighting regulations all of the time. If voters understood what we have to deal with on the farm, I feel they would be more sympathetic to us as an industry,” she says. “It seems so many of our urban friends have forgotten where their roots came from and need to be reminded that it was agriculture that built the backbone of this country.”
To do that, she set her mind to providing teachers with the tools needed to give our youngest citizens a basic understanding of who farmers are, what they do, and why they do it. “I learned early on that teachers are wary of advertising in the classroom and are suspicious of materials provided by organizations. So I set out to develop and design a curriculum easy for the teacher to incorporate and fun for the student to learn. In order to establish credibility, all of the lesson plans had to meet educational standards, follow the latest teaching trends and be classroom tested.”
Then, she conducted educator in-services to college teaching credential programs, schools, conferences and seminars. By teaching teachers about cotton and it's industry they would be comfortable and willing to use her classroom materials. “Teachers are our best spokespersons,” says Yribarren. “They just need to be given the tools.”
She says, “We are teaching the core subjects using cotton as a vehicle. If you are teaching strictly about cotton you are simply advertising a product. You don't really produce a loyal consumer through advertising, all you are producing is an impulse buyer. We want instead to make an investment in our children. My goal has always been to establish a consumer base built on education.”
What started out 12 years ago as simply providing teachers with cotton-based curriculum suggestions, has turned into an information packed Web site, www.cottonsjourney.com, a comprehensive teaching kit, Cotton's Journey-A Field Trip In A Box, for students in grade one through eight. And as of this year, Cotton's Journey From Seed To You 25-minute video teaching aid, telling the history of cotton, showing the production, harvest and processing of the crop and explaining the useful and resourceful properties of the cotton plant.
Yribarren's education program uses cotton as a vehicle to teach the core subjects: language arts, mathematics, science, and social science. “If a teacher utilizes curriculum for two subjects very heavily, then the program is a success,” she says. “There are so many hands-on activities and independent study lessons (with this program) that students are challenged and learn through experience.” The curriculum gives the teacher ownership of this program by determining where lessons fit into a classroom plan and the opportunity to combine curriculum that supports national recommendations.
The “field trip in a box” provides teachers with a 152-page teaching guide written in three sections for grades 1-3, 4-6, and 7-8. Each lesson lists objectives and education standards (national and California) and follows a simple format to allow for quick reference, flexibility and time efficiency. Also included in the kit, are Pima and upland cotton bolls, samples of cotton in various growth stages, cotton seed with planting instructions, cottonseed oil, a photographic poster, students manual, video, and a fiber dictionary. Yribarren also provides information from National Cotton Council, and (when available) National Cottonseed Products Association and Cotton Board.
Video now added
New to the kit is the Cotton's Journey video, which visually illustrates the history, production, and processing of cotton. The video is designed for use with the teaching curriculum, but it can also stand on its own for those teachers looking for a supplemental teaching aid. The California Department of Education has given Cotton's Journey-A Field Trip In A Box kit its stamp of approval, which means it will be placed on a list of supplemental resources that can be purchased by school districts with institutional funds.
The next step for Yribarren is to get her “Cotton's Journey” program certified, approved and accepted as a school resource in every Cotton Belt State. Just recently, the kit was approved by the California Department of Forestry, Natural & Human Community to be listed in the Communities Compendium for Environmental Study.
“What I'm finding in every state is that a lot of districts stand on their own. There's no central arm that looks at curriculum and says this will work and this won't work,” she says. “What I do have on my side is several ag education programs, such as the “Ag in the Classroom” and “Food Land & People”, which I've been associated with for 10 years. They seem to have a channel already set up for distributing their information, and I have been piggy-backing with them in most instances.”
“Cottonsjourney.com is the first Web site dedicated to cotton educational curriculum and resources, and I'm very gratified by the response the Web site has received from the education community,” she says. “Cotton promotion has been the responsibility of the marketing and advertising division of our industry. I just wish education had been perceived as a form of advertising in years past — even five years ago — so that by now we would have been able to chart some actual results.”
Yribarren has received support from the California and Texas state support committees, American Cotton Shippers Association, and the California Cotton Growers Association, and is currently in the process of acquiring a non-profit status for the cotton education program.
Lately, she finds herself on the telephone contacting Cotton Foundation members and inviting them to join in school sponsorships. “A sponsorship is an excellent medium for companies to show their support of education and begin building a communications bridge between their company and education,” she continues. “It's a wonderful form of public service and a win-win situation for everyone.”
She is quick to give credit to the unwavering encouragement from cotton producers and teachers that has kept her one-person crusade going. “I have been very fortunate to have connected with insightful and innovative individuals-in agriculture and education-who see the value in preparing and nurturing today's students to produce tomorrow's thoughtful citizens,” she says. “I'm doing this because I want to make a difference,” Yribarren adds.
Educators can purchase Yribarren's Cotton's Journey-Field Trip In A Box for $36.95, or a supplemental kit including the video, teaching guide and planting cotton seed for $25.95, via phone, fax or through Yribarren's Web site at www.cottonsjourney.com. Also, for more information on providing your local schools with a sponsorship, contact Yribarren at (800) 698-1888.