The Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation, Inc. (MAEF) recently honored Billingsley Elementary School librarian Bethany Thornton with the Velma Clark Excellence in Teaching About Agriculture Award. The award recognizes educators who demonstrate a commitment to teaching students about the importance of agriculture.

Thornton was surprised at the news she was chosen for recognition. “I was surprised and excited at the same time. It was completely unexpected,” she said.

Thornton has served as the librarian/media specialist at Billingsley since the school opened in 2019. But Thornton did not start her career in education in a school library. She first joined Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) at Milton M. Somers Middle School in 1998 but relocated two years later due to a change in her husband’s job. In 2012, Thornton moved back to Charles County and secured a position teaching English at Westlake High School. During her time at Westlake, Thornton completed a post-graduate program in school library. “I wanted to help my students become lifelong learners and discover their passions,” she said.

In 2014, Thornton took a position in the library at Indian Head Elementary School. She attended her first Ag in the Classroom Conference, sponsored by MAEF, in 2015. Her passion to teach children about agriculture grew from there. “Helping kids understand where their food comes from is really what drives my passion for agricultural education,” Thornton said.

In her lessons, Thornton consistently uses learning resources from MAEF and the National Ag in the Classroom program to teach children how agriculture plays a role in daily life. One of her main goals is for students to understand through hands-on activities and experiences why agriculture is important to them on a personal level.

One of her favorite activities with students is reading “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,” Thornton said.

As the award recipient, Thornton receives a $500 classroom stipend and an all-expenses paid trip to the National Ag in the Classroom Conference set for this June in Des Moines, Iowa. Thornton is looking forward to the conference to learn more about infusing agriculture education into her teaching. “I am thrilled to be honored and look forward to my trip for the National Ag in the Classroom conference to learn even more,” Thornton said.

MAEF is a nonprofit organization that promotes agricultural literacy and agricultural education. Signature MAEF programs include “Infusing Ag in the Classroom” professional development courses for teachers, mobile science labs, and mobile agricultural showcases. Visit for more information. 

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