Teaching Ag in the Burbs

September 23, 2020

Local girl closes the gap between urban & rural.

Lauren Frances wasn’t raised on a farm yet agriculture was all around her growing up outside of Waterman. She naturally learned about corn and cows from her rural community and in ag classes.

But the urban students she teaches at Naperville North High School haven’t been exposed to rural America like Lauren has been.

“What is so simple to us is new to them,” said the agri-science teacher and FFA advisor. “They don’t know what field corn is but know sweet corn and popcorn. And, they don’t know the difference between a beef cow and a dairy cow.”

In an FFA field trip to her home county of DeKalb, Lauren watched as her students for the first time saw fields of corn and farms. “They were amazed,” she said, as they exited the I-88 interstate and entered farm country. The Naperville-based students had oodles of questions about the unfamiliar rural landscape.

In veterinary science class, Lauren Frances helps students like Ally Rebich learn how to take a dog’s pulse and check vitals.

It’s moments like these for Lauren that motivate her to teach ag in the suburbs. She’s in her third year of teaching urban students at Naperville North, a suburb of Chicago.

She was inspired to be an ag teacher at ICHS.

When Lauren Frances was a freshman at Indian Creek High School she took the Introduction to Agriculture class based on her affection for animals and interest in animal science. “I fell in love with every aspect of agriculture!” she exclaimed.

“I loved animal science, welding, horticulture and everything else. It was then that I decided I wanted to teach ag – teaching a variety of classes and kids.”

Lauren credits her ag teachers (Kathy Novotny, Corrine Wengelewski and Julie Herrmann) as her true inspirations for pursuing this career path. “I saw how passionate they were about ag and FFA. I was lucky to be exposed to their different teaching styles and levels of expertise.”

Floral design is a popular class at Naperville North. Teacher Lauren Frances gives design tips to student Emily Lesko.

At Indian Creek, Lauren was active in FFA, serving as president her senior year, and earning her Illinois State FFA Degree.

During her high school years she helped young students learn about agriculture as part of the FFA’s after- school program. As a junior, she took charge – preparing lesson plans and activities as well as recruiting students to help with the program. In four years she interfaced with over 350 elementary students. 

While in high school Lauren became familiar with Farm Bureau’s Ag Literacy program, using ag kits for the after-school program and also visiting schools and making presentations for Ag in the Classroom.

Her teaching career started at Naperville

Having earned an agricultural education degree from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, Lauren was first hired to teach ag at Naperville Central High School in January 2018. She was one of two agri-science teachers there, for her it was on a part-time basis.

Lauren wanted more out of her teaching experience so in the fall of 2018 she accepted the full-time ag teaching positon at Naperville North High School.

Lauren imparts she has the support of the administration for both ag classes and FFA. “They understand not every kid will go to college. Hands-on learning is an opportunity ag classes provide.”

She teaches veterinary science, small animal science, plant science, greenhouse crop production, floral design, and food science classes. On average she has about 125 students in these classes each semester.

While she likes all of her ag classes, her favorites are veterinary science and food science. “These classes impact students the most,” Lauren said. “Students learn where their food comes from in these classes.”

The FFA program has grown tremendously in the last three years since Lauren Frances has been the FFA advisor. She is shown here with some of Naperville North’s FFA members.

Her biggest challenge is teaching urban students “who really don’t have the background” compared to rural kids she’s been around. “The students here start with these ag classes not knowing and its rewarding helping them to learn.”

Lauren has her work cut out for her. “What’s important for me is closing the gap between rural America and the suburbs,” she remarks.

The Naperville North teacher has been up for this challenge for the last three years. The 24-year-old has worked hard at building the ag program at the school located a couple blocks from downtown Naperville.

“I appreciate that it is so different for them, learning about agriculture. It’s all new to them. But it’s exciting as I’m exposing them to so much and so many careers, too,” explained Lauren.

Lauren Frances has built the FFA program from the ground up. FFA was dropped several years ago at Naperville North and was brought back in 2018. She started with 15 club members and has grown their FFA to 45 members.

Her students have participated in various FFA contests and have attended state and national conventions. “FFA has been a huge help to them in exploring ag careers. The national convention is also an incredible opportunity for kids to see how many FFA members there are nationwide and to get an understanding of how big the ag industry is, which they don’t see in the suburbs,” she said

The ag teacher is proud of her students’ accomplishments in the classroom and through FFA. Her students placed in the top 10 in the FFA sponsored veterinary science CDE (Career Development Event).

Her only disruption now is COVID-19 and its limitations with in-person teaching and FFA leadership events. She teaches classes remotely and FFA events have been virtual.

Once school is back to “normal” Lauren hopes to continue to “grow” the ag program at Naperville North.

“It takes a village to grow – to learn about agriculture, farming and rural America. But it’s necessary because it’s the backbone of our society,” she stated.

Lauren summarizes her teaching experience: “It’s very rewarding teaching in the suburbs. I love ag ed. And I’ve never faltered from my dream of being an ag teacher!”

How are local ag teachers adapting to teaching this year?