Librarian at Billingsley Elementary Receives 2021 Velma Clark Excellence In Teaching About Agriculture Award

HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. - The Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation, Inc. (MAEF) has selected Bethany Thornton, a librarian at Billingsley Elementary School of Charles County Public Schools for the Velma Clark Excellence in Teaching About Agriculture Award. This award is given to a Maryland educator who has demonstrated dedication in providing meaningful learning opportunities for their students to understand the importance of agriculture in our daily lives. 

Since attending her first Ag in the Classroom Conference in 2015, Thornton has been a passionate advocate for teaching about agriculture in and out of the classroom. Throughout her years as an educator, she has consistently used MAEF and National Ag in the Classroom learning resources to teach children and adults about how agriculture plays a role in their daily lives using “easily adaptable and engaging” agriculture-based lessons. 

“Helping kids understand where their food comes from is really what drives my passion for agricultural education. Charles County has such a rich agricultural history, and I really try to focus on using our local history and agricultural commodities as a framework for what I teach. Building on students’ prior knowledge of agriculture through hands-on activities and experiences allows them to identify why agriculture is important to them on a personal level.  As a librarian, I’m able to see my students’ knowledge and appreciation of agriculture grow as they move from one year to the next. It’s really amazing,” says Thornton. 

Thornton attributes the interdisciplinarity and adaptability of agriculture to her success of using agriculture as a vehicle to teach students about the world around them. “One of my favorite activities is to read How to Make Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman. It’s a great way to introduce students to new cultures and commodities from around the globe. Agriculture is just so diverse. You can teach anything with it!” 

With the award, Thornton receives a $500 classroom stipend and a trip to the National Ag in the Classroom Conference in Des Moines, Iowa, in June 2021.  This annual conference welcomes educators from around the globe who are passionate about connecting students to the origins of their food and fiber. The 2021 conference in Iowa will follow a hybrid format, allowing educators the flexibility of attending in-person or remotely from home.

Dedicated to increasing agricultural literacy and agricultural education, MAEF is a nonprofit organization with programs serving pre-kindergarten through post-secondary audiences. MAEF signature programs include “Infusing Ag in the Classroom” professional development courses for teachers; mobile science labs; mobile agricultural showcases and Maryland FFA. Funded by the Maryland “ag tag” license plate revenues, gifts, grants and program fees, MAEF promotes the importance of agriculture in everyone’s daily lives. For more information visit

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