Outstanding Middle/Secondary Program Awards

FFA Alumni

Sensational. This is the best way to describe this year’s NAAE Outstanding Middle/Secondary School Agriculture Education Programs, sponsored by the National FFA Alumni Association.

The NAAE Awards these programs for their overall success, growth, and motivation.

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Region I
Missoula County Public Schools
Missoula, MT
Instructors: Steve Vernier, Gene McClure

The Missoula County Public Schools Agricultural Education Department in Missoula, MT, is one of six schools who received the National Association of Agricultural Educators (NAAE) Outstanding Middle/Secondary Program (OMSP) Award for 2008.

The department is instructed by Gene McClure and Steve Vernier, who have taught at Missoula County Public Schools since 1983 and 1994, respectively.  Vernier previously taught agriculture at Plevna and Arlee, MT.  The two coordinate the eighty-acre satellite campus, which provides instruction to students in three county schools.

The agriculture curriculum at Missoula centers itself around the principle of hands-on learning.  Students are engaged in several instructional units, including fish/wildlife and agriculture, veterinary sciences, aquaculture, agricultural sales, animal science, equipment operation, leadership development, meats, farm mechanics, CNC technology, plant science, agricultural mechanics and farm business management.  The program has excellent facilities for instruction, with three classrooms, a small engines shop, a computer lab, office, greenhouse, farm mechanics shop and a 2,000 square foot animal science laboratory.

McClure and Vernier places a strong emphasis on experiential learning.  All students manage their own supervised agricultural experiment programs, many of which are livestock projects housed in the agriculture program campus's facilities. Since 1986, the program has had over seventy state FFA degree recipients and ten state proficiency award winners.  The instructors serve as advisors to an extremely active FFA chapter, which has produced eleven national career development event teams and sixteen state officers.

"Certainly one of the most impressive components of the agriculture program is the commitment and dedication of staff members who work incredible hours to guarantee that students succeed," said Paul Johnson, Big Sky High School principal.  "Missoula County Public Schools agricultural education emphasizes important attributes such as citizenship, honesty and integrity."

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Region II
Riverton High School
Riverton, KS
Instructor: Jacob Larison

The Riverton High School Agriculture department is directed by Jacob Larison, who has taught at Riverton High School since 2001, and previously taught at Southwestern Heights and Arkansas City High Schools.  Larison, an accomplished agricultural educator, received the Disney Teacher Award in 2006 for facilitating outstanding creativity in the classroom.

The agriculture curriculum at Riverton gives students several opportunities for hands-on learning. Students can take complete career cluster pathways in plant science, animal science, agribusiness and power, structural and technology systems through curriculum developed by Larison.  In 2005, the program opened doors to a new agricultural education facility, complete with a small animal laboratory, computer lab, greenhouse, a paint room, classroom and a well-equipped mechanics lab.  Technology such as Tablet PCs, GPS receivers and landscaping software has also been incorporated. The new facilities have allowed Larison to bring more hands-on learning into his classroom instruction.

The Riverton agricultural education program boasts a 100 percent FFA membership.  The FFA chapter has been recognized in the National Chapter Award program as a top ten chapter in the state every year since 2003, and as the top chapter in 2008.  Larison puts a strong focus on supervised agricultural experience programs at Riverton, as students have won eleven state proficiency awards and five have been recognized as national finalists.

"My belief is that the purpose of public education is to create happy, productive members of society. Mr. Larison is an extraordinarily effective educator in helping students meet this goal," said David Walters, Riverton Superintendent of Schools.  "The across-the-curriculum knowledge the students have of agriculture-related career opportunities and the leadership skills they have developed all serve them well as they leave high school and enter the workforce or go on to advanced educational opportunities."

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Region III
Randolph High School
Randolph , WI
Instructor: Keith Gundlach

The Randolph High School Agriculture department is directed by Keith Gundlach, who has been teaching agriculture at Randolph High School for thirty-one years.  During his years at Randolph, Gundlach has worked to increase FFA members by convincing the school board of the importance of student participation in FFA events.  His classes include students from Randolph and Cambria-Friesland High Schools.  The programs offer a variety of classes which include an exploratory class for middle school students.  Another amazing component of the program here is the exchange program.  Randolph High has developed an exchange program with an agriculture school in Graz, Austria.  This program gives students from both schools the chance to experience different forms of agriculture then what they find in their own back yards.

Gundlach believes that student interaction is very important in order for learning to be enhanced.  Having taught in Randolph for the past thirty-one years, he has created and maintained great relationships with students and their parents.  "I am a strong disciple of the connection between classroom instruction, the FFA and a supervised agricultural experience (SAE) with hands on learning," says Gundlach.  He does a great job in keeping his students active, while taking it upon himself to assist students who are beginning their own SAEs.  The classroom is filled with a variety of learning and teaching methods from lecture to labs. The program has been very successful, with the FFA members winning many awards and recognition over the years.  Along with parents, Gundlach has worked to build several community partnerships that will assist in enhancing his students' learning.

"Keith's agricultural education program has been a model for other schools to mirror," said Jeff Hicken, Agriculture and Natural Resources Education Consultant for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.  "The agricultural education department continues to prepare students with the most up-to-date curriculum and teaching techniques."

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Region IV
Miller High School
Miller, MO
Instructors: Lyle Whittaker and Jay Shepherd

The Miller High School agricultural education program is coordinated by the two teacher team of Lyle Whittaker and Jay Shepherd.  While both educators previously taught in other school districts, Whittaker has taught at Miller since 1995 and Shepherd since 2001.  With a comprised experience of 29 years of teaching, the duo has about 65 percent of the Miller High School's enrollment walk through their classroom doors, while teaching every student in the junior high.

The program is run on the philosophy that the curriculum must be organized with the students in mind.  Teaching the newest and latest information, combined with an attitude to learn and change your methods are vital keys to student achievement.  In an effort to reach that ideal, Miller operates the state's only school-run, inspected food science laboratory through the Missouri Department of Agriculture Meat Inspection program. With such facilities the instructors are able to market $25,000 of product annually.  The program sets the bar for agriculture programs in the state, being designated as a model program of the Missouri School Improvement Program.  In addition to the success received from the food science laboratory, the program has received $115,000 in grants over the past years to fund computer stations, agricultural mechanics equipment and a bio-ponics laboratory.

The Miller FFA chapter has a built a strong reputation under the advisement of Whittker and Shepherd.  In 2005 Scott Hill, a former Miller agricultural education student, received the National FFA Organization's American Star Farmer award for an outstanding supervised agricultural experience program.  Moreover, the chapter has garnered the three-star rating in the National Chapter Award program, while producing a national proficiency award winner and 27 American FFA Degree recipients.

  "The program offers a diverse secondary curriculum that includes not only the traditional production courses, but also courses in floriculture, landscaping, nursery operations, ag structures, meat science, food science, agriscience and agricultural sales," said Jim Bellis, agricultural education supervisor for the Missouri Department of Secondary and Elementary Education.

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Region V
Lincoln County High School/Lincoln County Ninth Grade Academy
Fayetteville, TN
Instructors: Tim Bradford, Dawn Malone, Spring Brindley, Jennifer Snoddy

The Lincoln County Agricultural Education Department is comprised of Lincoln County High School, which is coordinated by Tim Bradford, Dawn Malone and Jennifer Snoddy, and the Lincoln County Ninth Grade Academy, which is coordinated by Spring Brindley.  Each member of the four teacher program holds a Master's degree or higher.

The Lincoln County agriculture program holds to the philosophy that agricultural education is for everyone. The program's curriculum reflects that philosophy, offering a large and diverse number of courses designed to meet the interests of a wide variety of students.  Students have the opportunity to enroll in classes in fundamentals of agriculture, greenhouse management, floral design, small animal care, livestock management, equine science, wildlife management, forestry, agriculture mechanics, farm power and equipment and agricultural leadership.  The Lincoln County Ninth Grade Academy offers courses in fundamentals of agriculture and honors agriscience.  "Plans are underway to add veterinary science, agricultural engineering and an agriculture business class," said Snoddy.

The facilities at the program are one of a kind, including four classrooms, a 1,200 square foot greenhouse, a 1,800 square foot shop and a sixteen-acre land lab.  The land lab includes hay, corn and pumpkin crops which are harvested by the students. Recently the program received a $25,000 Perkins grant for a portable computer lab to enhance student learning.

The FFA chapter includes a combined membership of 297 students between the two schools.  Two teams of students competed in career development events at the 2007 National FFA Convention in Indianapolis, IN.  The marketing placed fourth in the nation, while the horse judging team placed eleventh.  An agricultural sales team competed in 2006 and received a gold-level ranking.  The FFA members are very involved in the community, assisting the Lincoln County Chapter Wild Turkey Federation set up for their annual Jakes Day and helping coordinate a farm city and farm safety day.

"The agriculture instructors have a love for agriculture and it is apparent in their day to day instruction.  They make it a priority to instill a love and appreciation of agriculture in their students," said Jim Stewart, Lincoln County High School principal.  "The Lincoln County FFA chapter never ceases to amaze me with their success in their career development events, community service projects and projects around the school."

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Region VI
Tri-Valley Central High School
Grahamsville, NY
Instructor: Tara Berescik

The Tri-Valley Central High School Agriculture department is directed by Tara Berescik, who has taught at Tri-Valley Central High School since 2000.  Berescik has been extremely creative in renovating the agricultural education program at Tri-Valley Central to meet student and community needs over the past eight years.

The agricultural curriculum at Tri-Valley Central gives students several opportunities for hands-on learning.  Students can enroll in courses in floral design, greenhouse management, small animal care, pre-veterinary science, domesticated and wildlife science, youth leadership development, and seventh and eighth grade introduction to agriculture technology.  The pre-veterinary science course is based on a Cornell curriculum that Berescik helped develop.  In the course, students help care for the Tri-Valley animals, including ferrets, rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, hamsters, lizards, fish, frogs, birds as well as train dogs.

The Tri-Valley Central FFA chapter has experienced tremendous growth since Berescik became the FFA advisor, with its membership increasing 550 percent over the past eight years.  In that same time period, the program has produced two New York FFA state officers, 24 sub-district officers and 16 American FFA degree recipients. The chapter also offers outstanding student-organized programs.  They have been recognized as a national three-star chapter at the National FFA Convention, and have been named National Model of Innovation finalists in community development and student development divisions for their student programs.

"As an educator in four different districts for the past 18 years, I have seen many programs.  It is however, the Tri-Valley agricultural education program and FFA chapter that I believe exemplifies everything that a parent, community member, teacher or administrator would want for a child," said Robert Worden, Tri-Valley Central High School principal.  "The FFA students at Tri-Valley are successful; not only as students and FFA members, but as caring compassionate community leaders.

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