Students get ‘authentic learning’ on the farm

Students get ‘authentic learning’ on the farm

Shreve Elementary School fourth-grader Carter Foxx checks out some equipment used in one of the learning stations on the school’s field trip to Willow Brook Dairy in Shreve. The equipment was used to help teach the students about farm safety.


When Shreve Elementary School fourth-graders took a field trip to a local dairy farm, they got more than a tour. They got access to a learning lab where they were the participants.

Their hosts were dairy farmers Kevin and Kristy Spreng of Willow Brook Dairy in Shreve, whose goal was to teach the young consumers about how milk gets from the farm to their tables.

“We know that children learn with their hands,” Kevin Spreng said, “so our primary goal was to give kids a hands-on experience so they would remember it.”

While rotating through different stations, students got to listen to a calf’s heartbeat, test milk samples, figure a calf’s rate of gain, measure a cow’s ration, create their own human ration, and learn about farm safety and careers in agriculture.

And just as they were ready to board the buses back to school, a cow gave birth to a calf.

“That was the icing on a perfect day,” Shreve Elementary School principal Adam Stein said. “A student came running up to me and said, ‘Mr. Stein, I had no idea when I came to school today that I would see a 2-minute-old calf.’”

The excitement of the day spread among staff and students including Austin Nehrenz, who had never been to a dairy farm.

Asked if the visit lived up to his expectations, Nehrenz said, “No, it went higher than my expectations.”

Nehrenz said his favorite activity was learning about what the cows eat and how their rations are figured. Students also formulated their own ration: a trail mix of cereal, chocolate chips, pretzels and marshmallows.

“We had to measure the different [ingredients] in grams,” Nehrenz said, “and we did that with the cow’s ration as well.”

The day brought together a team of volunteers including members of the Triway FFA, professionals in the dairy and animal industry, and representatives from the farm’s vendors.

“It was a proud community moment,” Stein said. “There was such strong support for ag science and dairy farming. I’m sure we have some budding farmers from this.”

Stein said the event was a perfect fit for the district’s learning initiative, which involves finding ways for students to immerse themselves in what they’re learning.

Stein said students got to see skills learned in the classroom such as working with formulas, weights and measurements applied in a real-world experience.

Liz Kinney, a Shreve Elementary Title One reading teacher, teamed up with her son Nathaniel, a farm manager for Willow Brook Dairy, to help the students run a lab experiment to test milk samples.

“Nathaniel wanted to make sure the students knew that the farmer always ships good, quality milk,” Liz Kinney said. “[The aim is always] a high-quality product for the consumer.”

Cameras in the milking parlor allowed the students to watch a live feed of the cows being milked. Students also got to walk on the cows’ waterbeds in their plastic boots.

The Sprengs and their workers milk about 550 cows at two locations: their Funk Road farm, which they purchased from longtime farmers Jim and Ann Obrecht, who were on hand during the field trip to teach farm safety, and their Snoddy Road operation, which they call their home farm.

Kevin and Kristy Spreng both hold degrees in dairy science from the Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute. Kevin Spreng continued his education at OSU, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. They have five children, three of whom are Shreve Elementary students: Noah, a fourth-grader; Callihan, a second-grader; and Jordyn, a preschooler. They also have two 1/2-year-old twins, Rhett and Rhea.

Kevin Spreng said his background in education — his mom also was a teacher — instilled in him a passion for teaching young people.

“The agriculture industry is faced with a lot of consumer misconceptions on what actually happens on the farm and how much work goes into producing food,” Kevin Spreng said.

Kevin Spreng and his wife decided in the spring that they want to open their doors and be transparent on how they do things.

“No better group to do that with than school-age children who are forming opinions,” Kevin Spreng said.

Shreve Elementary fourth-grade teacher Janeen Shemenski said from making pudding with milk, to discovering Doritos are made with a milk product, to learning the parts of a cow, the students got much information.

“It’s an experience they will not forget,” Shemenski said.

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