Schools in the Dakotas invest in students and teachers to promote active-learning

Farm Forum

ST. LOUIS – Thirteen school districts in North and South Dakota received $160,000 in grants this year from America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education, sponsored by the Monsanto Fund. The program partners with farmers to support rural public school districts with innovative approaches to teaching math and science. Given the technological progress in agriculture over the past 20 years, farmers are aware of the need for superior math and science education, especially for students in their communities.

“Funding schools in rural communities is a real challenge,” said Walt Bones, Grow Rural Education Farmer Advisory Council member and former South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture. “A program like this one, that comes to the table with money to invest in these ideas, can accomplish a lot toward improving math and science education.”

The winning districts have designed many innovative programs for use of the grant funds, including Underwood School District in McLean County, North Dakota. Seventh through ninth grade students will use portable technology such as touch screen tablets to collect and analyze data from local water, land, and air samples. In conjunction with new scientific probes and sensors, students will test soil from various areas around the school, including local farmland, to determine quality.

At Hanson School District in Hanson County South Dakota, the grant will be used to create an online alternative learning center, equipped with 20 new laptops. For the first time in the school’s history, students can take Advanced Placement and dual credit courses on site.

The program starts with farmers, who can nominate a public school district in their community to apply for a grant of up to $25,000. Once all of the school district applications are submitted, a panel of math and science teachers reviewed each application and selected finalists. An advisory council, composed of farmer-leaders with an interest in agriculture and education, then selects the winning grant applications from a pool of finalists.

Advisory Council member Katie Heger, who farms in North Dakota, had a hand in helping to select this year’s winners. “Everything from utilizing robotics to investing in iPads to getting down and dirty analyzing water and soil is on the agenda for Dakotas winners of the America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education grant,” said Heger. “As a farmer and teacher I am given hope as I look to the next generation of students that will be entering the work force. I feel the grants awarded in this region will provide opportunities for students and teachers to develop and enhance lifelong skills.”

The funding is utilized for math and science projects in grades K-12, to prepare students for a wider range of career prospects in an increasingly technology-driven workforce. Increasing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education means more schools in the region will meet Common Core State Standards. According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, when students take an active approach to learning, their comprehension of the subject increases, which leads to higher test scores and more interest in STEM careers.

This program is part of the America’s Farmers initiative, which partners with farmers to support education, service organizations and youth in rural America. Visit to see the full list of winners for this year. A sister program, America’s Farmers Grow Communities, is currently in its enrollment period. To sign up, visit