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
Lind Junior/ Senior High School
Lind, WA
Andrew Williams

Williams has been the agriculture teacher at Lind Junior/ Senior High School since 2005.  In a community that employs over 80 percent of its residents in agriculture-related jobs, he has built a program centered on production agriculture, business management, and career preparedness to reflect the needs of the community.  It is Williams’ mission to effectively teach his students how to be best prepared for life after taking his classes.  He does so by helping his students identify career interests, make industry connections and develop the necessary job skills through project and work-based learning.

“I am also a huge believer that success breeds success,” said Williams.  “I feel that not only will a successful chapter find continued success down the road, but more importantly a student who is successful in their endeavors will have the drive and motivation instilled in them to be successful later on in life.”

"I have been impressed with Andy’s commitment to the students and ensuring that they gain useful skills that will be applicable to their careers,” said Randy Kulm, a member of the Lind Agricultural Education Program Advisory Board. “I have watched what I would consider “problem students” go through his classes and come out with not only employable skills, but also poise, responsibility, and motivation to succeed.”

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Region II
Norman High School
Norman, OK
Teacher: Devin Grissom and Melinda Tague


Melinda Tague and Devin Grissom serve as the instructors of the Norman Agriculture Program, which is a collaboration of two high schools, Norman High School and Norman North High School.  The course areas offered between the two teachers include Agricultural Communications, Agriscience, Agricultural Power & Technology I, II and III, Equine Production and Management, Animal Science, and Horticulture I, II and III.

Community service is an essential part of this program as Tague and Grissom provide an outlet for all students to be active in the program and therefore, their school.  Tague and Grissom describe the local community as being diverse in not only agricultural commodities, but also in culture and ethnicities, creating a need for a diverse school-based agriculture program.  Their program is rich in agricultural traditions but stays as dynamic as the ever-changing agricultural industry.  It is their program’s mission to always have effective, relevant curriculum and so they frequently use of current technologies, to maintain students’ interest and motivate student learning.

“We find that some of the students with no agricultural ties often question some of the practices of the agriculture industry,” said Tague.  “This gives us the opportunity to educate them on why many of the management practices are used in livestock and crop production, so that they become more knowledgeable about our industry, then share it with others.”

"Melinda and Devin’s expertise in certain areas is vital to the faculty community,” said Dr. Lynne Chesley, principal of Norman High School.  “They both have a great rapport with their students and also maintain a positive relationship with their students’ parents.”

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Region III
Harlan Community Middle/ High School
Harlan, IA
Instructors: Brittany Elmquist, Daniel Leinen


Brittany Elmquist and Daniel Leinen are the agriculture teachers at Harlan Community Middle/ High School.  They describe the Harlan community as producing a variety of agricultural commodities such as corn, soybeans, oats, alfalfa and livestock.  With 188 students in their program, Elmquist and Leinen believe it is their job to identify each student’s abilities and interests in order to provide meaningful education to them.  One way they do this is by requiring each student to develop and maintain a Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) project and record book.  41 of the students effectively balance more than one SAE project.

A unique feature of their program is the horticulture career pathway, in which students take part in a program called Cyclone Salads.  Students grow vegetables to make healthy salads that are sold daily at the cafeteria salad bar.  A grant obtained by the two teachers funds the greenhouse and therefore, Cyclone Salads.  They also developed an FFA vending machine, which offers healthy alternative snacks to students.  This was a direct result of their entrepreneurial curriculum.  Five students are responsible for placing orders, controlling inventory, maintaining the machines, deposit funds raised, and keep records on the status of the vending account and its profitability.  Elmquist and Leinen also implement community service project opportunities for students throughout the community to help give back and connect students to local agricultural pursuits.  With the completion of 40 community service projects, the FFA chapter has given back a combined value of over 500,000 dollars to communities within the school district.

“We have many students that continue their education and careers in agriculture related field once they leave our institution and we believe this is obviously attributable to the quality program offered by Mr. Leinen and Ms. Elmquist,” said Robert Broomfield, Superintendent of Harlan Community Schools. 

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Region IV
Eastern Hancock High School
Wilkinson, Indiana
Instructor: Natalie Schilling

Melanie Block

Eastern Hancock Jr. /Sr. High School (EHHS) is a small rural school that serves three surrounding towns.  The middle school has an enrollment of 265 students and the high school has 333.  Prior to 2002 the agriculture program had been fairly traditional at ECHS, with a single teacher - Mr. Scott Jacobs.  In the spring of 2002, the school received a CAPE grant, funded by the Lilly Endowment Foundation to create a High Technological Agriculture Facility.  This grant also allowed funding for a second teach to be hired - Ms. Natalie Schilling. The other component to the grant was the renovation of facilities.  The shop that was already on site had 700 square feet of the floor plan transformed into an agriscience classroom with laboratory equipment and food science capabilities.  The classroom also received 55 wireless laptop computers. There was also a 36’ x 48’ greenhouse and a 4,575 square foot animal science research facility built.  The name of the program was changed from Technical Agriculture Education to Eastern Hancock Life Science Academy, to help students and community members understand that agriculture is a science.

With newly renovated faculties and a new name came a new teaching philosophy.  Jacobs and Schilling see agricultural education as an essential for everyone.  “No matter what background, sex, or age, agriculture affects every person on this earth,” said Schilling.

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Region V
DeLand High School
DeLand, Florida
Instructors: Brett Brandner and Amy McAllister

Jason Chester

Brett Brandner and Amy McAllister are the agriculture teachers at DeLand.  In a county that seats one of the U.S.’s most famous tourist’s spots, Daytona Beach, you would never think there would be ties to rural America.  However, the Deland program is centered on production agriculture, business management, and career preparedness, which reflects the needs of the community.  Deland High School serves grades 9-12 with 3,500 students enrolled; 290 of them are taking an agriculture course although 78 percent do not come from a production agriculture background.  All agriculture students are required to complete the Agriscience Foundations course, then they may choose between Agricultural Technology Sequence, Horticulture, Agricultural Mechanics, or Agri-business Co-op.   DeLand’s agriculture program maintains a 27 acre land lab, which consists of a small citrus grove, garden, plant nursery, shade house, as well as facilities for swine, beef, sheep and goats.

Brandner and McAllister understand that each student learns differently, some prefer to read, some like lectures, and others may require hands-on activities.  They make sure to incorporate all three, as well as following state standards to make their students a caliber higher than the rest.

“We strive to promote lifelong learning because our students will be working in careers and with technologies that don’t even exist as of today.”  “We feel agriculture education has something to offer each and every student.  It is something that any student can excel at if they are willing to show an effort.  All our students have to do is give it a chance,” said Brandner.

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Region VI
Cape May County Technical High School
Ocean City, New Jersey
Instructor: JoAnn Sopchak

Debra Seibert

JoAnn Sopchak is the agriculture teacher at Cape May.  The high school re-established the agriculture program in 2004 at the urging of community members.  After much planning and collaboration the school district created a three year, three level program.  Areas of focus include plant, soil, and environmental science with a high concentration in mathematics.  The district stressed the fact that they wanted students who could communicate effectively, make professional decisions, and possess the basic skills necessary for success in the agriculture industry.

“The most difficult thing for an agriculture teacher to do is teach students about agriculture who have no prior knowledge, experience or exposure.  As all young people are unique - so should be their education,” said Sopchak.

A unique feature of their program is the horticulture career pathway, in which students “own” part of the program.  Students are responsible for maintaining greenhouses, turf grass areas, and landscape beds.  This offers students a sense of responsibility, and with this comes motivation to work hard and master the skills that are essential to success.

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