Outstanding Teacher Awards

Enthusiastic, motivated, inspiring. these are just a few words that describe an Outstanding Teacher. The NAAE Outstanding Teacher Awards go to agriculture teachers that have kept a tradition of excellence in their program along with the inborn love for agriculture.

All Outstanding Teacher Award winner photos from 2013 NAAE Convention
(For news releases, see each individual's information on this page.)

Region I Don Noorda, NV
Region II Jason Larison, KS
Region III Matthew Eddy, IA
Region IV Dena Wuebker, OH
Region V Bobby Vinzant, AL
Region VI Amanda Thomson, CT

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Region I
Don Noorda
Wells High SChool
Wells, Nevada

news release

Noorda has been teaching agriculture at Wells High School since 1993. Since he came to Wells, program enrollment has grown enough to add another full-time agriculture instructor. Together the teachers have developed plans for additional facilities, including a food science lab and an outdoor garden attached to the existing greenhouse. Recently, the program also added five new courses, including two agriculture mechanics classes. Four of the 10 courses offered in the agriculture program at Wells are state science accredited, six are accredited to state humanities, and five courses are also accredited for college credit at Great Basin College.

Noorda's goal for each of his students is for them to become responsible, employable citizens who have an appreciation for agriculture and the skills to be life-long learners. Noorda accomplishes this goal through inquiry-based learning, fostering student engagement and getting his students to develop questions instead of answers, putting the responsibility for their education into their own hands. One of the ways he does this is through his range science unit, where he travels with students to visit several range sites. Students develop hypotheses about why each site is in its current condition, research management strategies for each site, interview the range site managers, and then defend their hypotheses and offer management recommendations.

"Inquiry based instruction demands that students show ownership in their education and develops critical thinkers; both characteristics foster life-long learning interests," said Noorda. "Teachers cannot 'make' students learn, so I strive to motivate and foster a love of education in each of them."

Noorda is actively involved in NAAE and the Nevada Agriculture Teachers Association, as well as several other professional organizations, where he has served in multiple leadership positions.

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Region II
Jason Larison
Holton High School
Holton, Kansas

news release

Larison has been teaching agriculture at Holton High School since 1995. Since he has been teaching at Holton High School, program enrollment has increased enough to add another full-time agriculture instructor. Together Larison and his co-teacher have added new facilities and renovated others, including an engines and electricity lab, and greenhouse. Larison has also made it a priority to integrate technology into his program, securing funding for new equipment through numerous grants. Most recently, he added a specialty course for seniors, Agriculture On the Job Training (Ag OJT), and has signed articulation agreements with two local colleges that will allow his students to receive college credit for several of his classes.

Larison motivates his students to think critically and develop their own solutions to real world situations through hands-on lessons. His method of teaching allows students to take ownership in their learning, promoting higher-order thinking, while also providing them with the skills and knowledge they need to be career and college ready. The backbone of his experiential learning-based program is his students' supervised agricultural experiences (SAE's), which are supervised long-term work placement or entrepreneurial projects.

Larison is actively involved in the NAAE as well as the Kansas Association of Agricultural Educators, in addition to holding state and national leadership positions in several other agricultural education and FFA-related organizations and committees.

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Region III
Matthew Eddy
Southeast Polk Community School District
Pleasant Hill, Iowa

news release

Eddy has been teaching agriculture for 14 years, and has been at Southeast Polk Community School District since 2004. Since he has been teaching at Southeast Polk, the program has seen increased student enrollment, becoming the largest FFA chapter in Iowa. Eddy's program focuses on inquiry-based learning, using the Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education (CASE). Incorporating hands-on labs and scientific principles, Eddy has been able to apply core academics to agriculture, making use of various agriscience equipment and facilities, such as an aquaculture lab with hydroponic systems, a greenhouse, and livestock facility.

A strong supporter of the CASE curriculum, Eddy has served as a Master Teacher and led three CASE curriculum institutes, training fellow agricultural educators to successfully incorporate the curriculum into their own programs. Eddy also wrote and received an $833,000 grant from the Iowa Governor's Scale-Up STEM grant, securing agriscience equipment for 77 Iowa agricultural education programs and the opportunity for those educators to attend CASE curriculum institutes.

Eddy knows community support is critical to the success of his program. One of the key ways Eddy markets his program, while also providing his students with hands-on inquiry-based learning, is through the Animal Learning Center (ALC) he created in partnership with the Iowa State Fair. In the ALC, fairgoers are able to observe livestock giving birth, including 23 cattle which are cared for by his advanced animal science (AAS) course. Through this course, students learn the science behind reproduction and breeding while gaining practical hands-on experience with the animals. The students then continue this hands-on experience through the accompanying AAS summer lab, where they manage the full cycle of a cow-calf operation, each student individually completing over 120 hours and earning internship credit with the local community college.

Eddy is actively involved in NAAE as well as the Iowa Association of Agricultural Educators, in addition to writing for the "Day in the Life of an Ag Teacher" blog on NAAE's Communities of Practice site for the past three years.

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Region IV
Dena Wuebker
Versailles High School
Versailles, Ohio

news release

Dena Wuebker Wuebker has taught at Versailles High School for all 19 years of her teaching career, and has seen many changes in those years. Throughout her career, it has always been Wuebker's goal to prepare students for their next step beyond high school by using a variety of teaching techniques to meet the needs of each student. She believes that students will be truly interested in learning when they know how much the teacher cares. She expresses that care by instilling life skills of cooperation, responsibility, communication, to help develop the whole person — not just students' academic accomplishments.

"My greatest contribution is my ability to provide students with enormous opportunities that connect what they have learned in the classroom, demonstrate it in the lab and then put it into actual real life use," Wuebker said.

Wuebker has worked to stay up-to-date on teaching techniques by participating in state and national professional development organizations like NAAE. She has also built partnerships with local agricultural leaders that have helped her develop skills in technical areas of agriculture.

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Region V
Robby Vinzant
Lawrence County High School
Moulton, Alabama

news release

Robby Vinzant Vinzant has been teaching agriculture for nine years. He teaches a variety of classes ranging from plant biotechnology to animal science, and his program is the most popular elective at Lawrence County High, enrolling more than 20 percent of its students.

Lawrence County High was named the state of Alabama's first "Innovation School System" in 2013 because of the advanced diploma with an agricultural endorsement his students have the opportunity to receive. This initiative, which Vinzant worked on in conjunction with Auburn University, aims to increase graduation rates of students enrolled in his program, as well as increase those students' college enrollment.

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Region VI
Amanda Thomson
Middletown High School
Middletown, Connecticut

news release

Amanda Thomson Thomson has been teaching agriculture for 16 years. She prides herself on presenting diverse learning opportunities that appeal to all types of learners, trying her best to connect with every student who enrolls in her classes. For her, a big part of this is preparing her students for the broad spectrum of careers available in agriculture.

Throughout her time at Middletown, Thomson has continually innovated, for instance revising her sophomore ag research paper assignment to align with Connecticut standardized exams in science, reading and interdisciplinary writing. The changes to this assignment made a measurable positive impact in her students' test scores, causing her ag students to outperform their peers in the high school on standardized tests.

"I believe my students are so successful because in ag class we regularly apply these academic skills to real-world situations, just as students are expected to do on these standardized tests," Thomson said.

Thomson has been an active member of the Connecticut Association of Agricultural Educators since 1997 and NAAE since 1995. She takes advantage of the many professional development opportunities these organizations offer to broaden her teaching skills. She has also sought out numerous other ways to broaden her teaching skills such as becoming certified in first aid, Continental Kennel Club canine care and training certification, carriage driving, dog grooming and laboratory animal science.

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