A tradition continues with teaching, learning and kindness (Ashley Jones – Smithberger Farms)

2021-2022 School Year (In-Person Learning) Story written by Darla Cutright for APS

Smithberger Farms of Randolph, Ohio is a fourth-generation family farm beginning in the 1950s. David & Tina Smithberger’s daughter Ashley Jones is a fifth-grade teacher within Akron Public Schools (Portage Path CLC). Ashley wanted to find opportunities to bring agricultural experiences to the urban school and students. While the district was 100% remote during the 2020-2021 school year, the Smithberger family donated 180 mini pumpkins to the school’s drive-thru fall festival. This year, Mrs. Jones’ classroom watched videos about why pumpkins are orange and why we decorate them at Halloween. They also enjoyed reading the book, How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin?

            The Smithberger’s shared the humbling experience of gifting the students with a pumpkin and the joy that the small gesture brought to the school and community. This year, the Smithberger family farm doubled their pumpkin seeds in hopes of donating more mini pumpkins to the school drive thru event. On October 21st, the family donated over 200 mini pumpkins to the school’s fall harvest event. This partnership continues to receive positive feedback from the school community and hopes to grow in the years to come. “It is such an amazing opportunity to bring joy to the students at my school through a small piece of our farm”, said Ashley Jones.

2020-2021 School Year (Remote)

Gratitude is often a focus of classroom writing assignments during the month of November, but also something we think about as we celebrate Thanksgiving. With all the changes in our lives this year, it may be easier to focus on what we are missing rather than what we have. Fifth grade teacher Ashley Jones started focusing on gratitude a year ago and has tried to pass it on to her students. “I donated 180 mini pumpkins to the school,” said Mrs. Jones.

            Last October, Mrs. Jones decorated her classroom (when we were actually in classrooms) with multi-colored ears of corn and corn stalks, as well as pumpkins, all grown on her family’s farm. The Smithberger farm in Randolph has been in Mrs. Jones’ family for 70 years. Her family has cows and pigs, as well as produce such as corn, hay, and pumpkins, including what Mrs. Jones brought to decorate her class. “We grow them every year, all sorts.

Last year at the end of October, she raffled off the decorations for students to take home, not sure if any of the students would be interested. But all the decorations were a big hit. When Mrs. Jones saw how much the students enjoyed the decorations as well as the pumpkins, she decided to set a goal to plant enough mini pumpkins this year so that every student in her class could take one home. “I purposely planted more mini pumpkins last spring in hopes of having enough for my class.”

            Mrs. Jones enjoys sharing information about her family farm with her students. As they study and learn about agriculture, pollination, and the differences in urban, suburban, and rural communities, their teacher makes the connection to her real-life situation. “It’s hard for my students to realize that crops that we grow, raise and sell, are only a half-hour away,” said Mrs. Jones.  Some students noticed different warts or coloring on their pumpkins and wondered about it; this was a great opportunity to research the cross-pollination that had occurred with the gourds that were growing nearby.

            Mrs. Jones also discussed the process of growing the pumpkins, beginning with planting the seeds.  When it was time to harvest them, the whole family helped. “It took a couple of hours (to pick them). You have to cut them one by one so you don’t break their stems,“ said Mrs. Jones.

Mrs. Jones’ father helped wash the pumpkins after harvesting them, and he and her husband helped load them into her vehicle to bring them to Portage Path. Mrs. Jones passed them out to students who attended the October Family International Storytelling Night at Portage Path CLC. She also brought six big pumpkins for decoration that she shared with others at the end of the night. “Seeing the reactions on the kids’ faces was a really cool experience,” she said. “It was something small. I really hope it made a difference and brightened someone’s day,” said Mrs. Jones. She’s already planning to plant enough pumpkins next year to have enough for every student in the school.

Thanks, Mrs. Jones. Portage Path CLC is grateful for you.

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