“Learning by doing” isn’t just a 4-H slogan. It’s become a life-long mantra for FarmHer and teacher Kerri Bell of Washington, Iowa. Farm work, 4-H projects and FFA activities helped Kerri discover her passions at a young age. Then she learned how to channel those passions into volunteer activities, as well as into her profession.
“The youngest of three daughters, I was a FarmHer before the term existed,” says Kerri Bell, who grew up near Dysart, Iowa, where her family farmed and her mom also was a 4-H Club leader. “My passion for helping others is what guided me down my career path.”
Kerri decided to attend University of Iowa for Elementary Education because she wanted to give her students what many of her teachers had given her: the confidence, hope and encouragement to follow her dreams.
“Many kids today come from very challenging backgrounds. I know my influence can make a huge impact on whom they become,” says Mrs. Bell. “Every day I am grateful for the opportunity to be that positive influence in their lives. As a veteran teacher, I strive to give my best to guide them wherever their dreams take them in the future.”
Although she’s in her 23rd year of teaching – and her 21st year of teaching second grade at Mid-Prairie – Mrs. Bell says every day holds new experiences. She encourages parents and community members to follow her classroom adventures on Twitter @KerriBell2 and on Facebook/MrsBell2nd.
“Just like my husband’s farming career, I plan, prepare and plant my crop of students to grow and learn so they’ll be to be ready for harvest at the end of the school year. We just have opposite seasons where I’m planting in the fall and harvesting in the spring and vice versa,” says Mrs. Bell. “Both my husband and I put in countless hours and work late into the night because we’re passionate about what we do. My family helps me with special school and community projects. I help with our family farming operation when extra hands are needed.”
Mrs. Bell also lends a helping hand to school and community organizations. While in high school, she volunteered as a peer helper and tutor. She was a youth leader helper at church and went on to serve as a Sunday School teacher, educator, and volunteer. She also was 4-H youth volunteer and continues serving as a 4-H volunteer.
Pledging her hands to larger service, Mrs. Bell has served as a 4-H judge the past 27 years at the county and state levels. She’s a past member of the Washington County 4-H Extension Council. She served on the Washington County sheep committee for 10 years. She also is a five-year member of the Washington County 4-H Youth Committee and is a 4-H club volunteer. In addition, Mrs. Bell serves as secretary of the Washington FFA Alumni Association and is a contest judge. She also is secretary of the Washington County Corn Growers Association and volunteers for the Iowa Corn Growers Association.
Her passion for helping people and farming provides opportunities for Mrs. Bell to help debunk myths or misinformation. She also makes learning fun by incorporating ag into her classroom.
“Some years I have no students who live on working farms. Some students may live on an Students get an opportunity to learn firsthand what happens daily on the Bell family farm, and they have an opportunity to ask questions. Mrs. Bell also has added many children’s books that help elementary students learn about farming.
Through her service work in 4-H, FFA and the Iowa Corn Growers, Mrs. Bell has learned about classroom resources available. She says Farm Bureau, Iowa Corn Growers Association and Iowa State University Extension have developed exceptional materials and information, too. She also taps into community resources like inviting the Washington County Naturalist into her classroom and acreage but have no affiliation with farming. Others have grandparents and/or great grandparents who farm. Therefore, I feel it is so very important to share our story from farm to classroom,” says Mrs. Bell.
Another “life skill” that Mrs. Bell helps teach in her classroom is Pick a Better Snack with Amy Green, Washington County Youth Coordinator. (Side bar: More than 15 years ago, I was part of the creative team that developed the “Pick a Better Snack” campaign and related marketing materials for the Iowa Department of Public Health. It’s rewarding to see messages still being communicated around “Wash. Bite.” and “Pick. Eat. How easy is that?”)
“My students LOVE the ‘Pick a Better Snack’ program. The kids are on the edge of their seats because Miss Amy’s enthusiasm is contagious. She comes ready to teach,” says Mrs. Bell. “Students learn about a fruit and/or vegetable each week for nine weeks. We get a first-hand look into the growing process. Miss Amy shows various ways fruits and vegetables can be prepared. What’s critical is that these foods are ‘fast foods’ that are healthy and ready to eat like apples and carrots. Wash. Eat. How easy is that?”
“Today more than ever, many kids never get home cooked meals prepared for them in their homes. The Pick a Better Snack program empowers kids to take home ideas that even they can do themselves to get these healthy foods into their tummies. In addition, Miss Amy teaches a lesson. One week we focused on exercise. Did you know the average second grader should have 60 minutes of physical exercise every day?”
Just as Kerri provides opportunities for children in her classroom to learn by doing, she and Lance have provided on-farm opportunities for their twin teenage daughters. Ellie and Sophie operate Bell Sisters Rabbitry, as well as manage their own corn and soybean acres. Tune into TheFieldPosition.com this Friday when we feature the Bell family.