Cow in the Classroom: To get children interested in agriculture, an FFA member takes the farm to the students

Katherine Fazzino and Reenie
Katherine Fazzino and Reenie

It is one thing to take a hamster or a pet rabbit to school, quite another to take a cow. So when 17-year-old Katherine Fazzino took her favorite show heifer, Reenie, to 10 elementary schools this past year, she made a big impression on hundreds of little students — which was exactly her goal.

Reenie is the main character in a children's storybook that Katherine wrote and illustrated as a way to teach youngsters about agriculture and farm life. Titled "Reenie's Ranch Adventure," the book is based on the high school senior's experience growing up on her family's farm near Bryan, Texas.

But Katherine had another reason, as well, for publishing the book — she is passionate about reading and education."

Bryan has some schools with a low literacy rate, so I decided to combine reading with agriculture as a way to inspire children to read and learn about farming at the same time," says Katherine, who comes from a family of farmers and schoolteachers. "This project was meant to bridge the gap in the educational areas of language arts, reading, math and writing through the foundation of agriculture."

A Rudder FFA member since seventh grade, she undertook the book project last summer as one of 10 Texas FFA members named to the 2016 Ford Leadership Scholars program. The program provides an intensive hands-on leadership development experience, which includes community projects.

The storybook and school visits allowed Katherine to fulfill her personal mission as a Ford scholar: "to make a lasting impact on my community and those I encounter by taking time to inform, engage and inspire elementary students in agricultural and livestock areas, familiarizing them with the industry's terminology, environment and lifestyle."

Often working into the wee hours of the morning, she spent three months writing and illustrating the book, and then developed a website where it can be ordered.

During the school year, she and Reenie — often dressed up in a scarf or hat — took their cow-in-the-classroom routine to local schools. Katherine estimates that she read to over 1,000 students from kindergarten through second grade and answered dozens of questions about cows and farm life.

"I can see the impact I've had on these kids," she says, referring to the letters and e-mail messages she receives asking about Reenie and farm life.

To ensure that her book continues to have a long-lasting impact, she donated a copy to the library and classroom teacher at each school she visited. She also started a Twitter account so she can update students on Reenie's daily activities.

A total of 2,000 books were printed. By late April, Katherine had sold or donated all of her hardback copies, and had only 115 paperbacks remaining. This summer she and Reenie will distribute more books when they visit local libraries to promote summer reading programs."

This storybook gives students an opportunity to witness agriculture come to life," she says. "They also learn about the hard work, dedication and the passion that exists in the agriculture community and the FFA."

One of five daughters of Capital Farm Credit customers Sally and Lee Fazzino Jr., Katherine has always been passionate about agriculture and FFA. In 2015, she earned second place in the plant science division at the agri-science fair during the National FFA Convention, and in 2016, she placed second in the environmental and natural resources division. Currently, she is vice president of Texas FFA Area III, District I.

"Katherine was the one who would follow her dad out to the field, asking questions and wanting to know what he was doing and why," says Sally.

This fall, Katherine will begin studies at Texas A&M University, majoring in agricultural economics with a minor in agribusiness. Her goal is to work on the business side of agriculture, but if that doesn't pan out, she says, ag education might be a fallback.

After all, she has already proved that she has some creative ideas when it comes to teaching agriculture.

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