2023 Georgia Excellence in Ag Educator Winner Creating Unique Learning Environment for Students

Carrollton, GA |

Just a short drive from Carrollton, across the state line, lies a forty-acre farm in Heflin, Alabama that’s become the hub of hands-on learning for Sam Camp and her family. However, Sam’s journey into the world of farming and teaching began long before she took over the STEM position at Mt. Zion Elementary.

“Grew up on a small farm. My grandfather raised pigeons and we had chickens, and at one point my dad even raised a raccoon. We just had all kind of birds and anything that we could get our hands on, even horses. So, while we didn’t actually farm necessarily, we did just have a love of animals and we grew up with that all around our house,” says Camp.

As the pandemic gripped the world, the Camp family found solace in the open spaces of their farm, providing an invaluable education for their daughter Laney. Learning the ins and outs of animal care, agriculture, and nurturing a passion for veterinary sciences, Sam realized the profound impact that farming and animal husbandry had on education.

“I have never even had the intention on ever leaving a general education classroom setting, and when this kind of came open, when I tell you I jumped on it without even thinking about it, I just ran literally to the office and was like, ‘I heard that this is open. Can I please have it?'”, says Camp.

“It was really the passion, because we knew we’re such a STEM-based school and county that I knew I needed somebody in that position that had a passion for it. Not just an interest, but a passion; Sam did. So, I knew if I put her in it, she was going to be as strong with the STEM as she was with the phonics. I knew ultimately our kids were going to benefit from that, but it did take me a while. It took me a little bit of time to convince myself to let her do it. I don’t regret it at all though. I have not ever regretted. It was probably one of the best decisions I’ve made since sitting in a principal position of letting her take that position,” says Melissa Dearman.

The fusion of STEM and agriculture became Sam’s passion. With the help of the local High School, and the Carroll County Farm Bureau, she dove headfirst into creating a unique learning environment. The connection between ‘Big Eagles’ and ‘Little Eagles’ in her class; bridging that gap between high school and elementary students became a cherished aspect of her teaching.

“Just hearing their conversations about things, seeing them handle the animals has been probably the thing I that has changed most for those kids. Just making them comfortable around animals. Seeing them properly hold a chicken and learning how to plant stuff and learning about composting. So, just seeing them live it, not just read about it on a text, has been a big change here for me,” says Camp.

Sam’s impact however didn’t stop at her classroom door. She also spearheaded safety initiatives, coordinated STEM programs across the school, and became an active representative in the agricultural community. From planning AG Days for hundreds of students, to earning grants for outdoor classrooms and gardens, Sam embodies the spirit of an educator dedicated to fostering a love for agriculture and learning.

“I just felt like there was an absence in elementary school and even somewhat into middle school. For me, when I decided to become a teacher, that was a decision I made in like first or second grade. That’s when I decided that. Sometimes you’ll ask kids to draw a picture of a farmer and you’re immediately going to get overalls and that kind of thing. So, I felt like if we didn’t do something early on and show these kids what farming actually is, then with our growing population, how are we going to survive, in the future?,” says Camp.

“I never envisioned it the way Sam had it in her head. I’m happy that she had that in her head of how she saw this being built. I just stepped back and said, ‘do it with how you want to’,” says Dearman.

By: Ray D’Alessio