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Contact: Carolina Nicholson, (717) 761-2740, email@example.com
HERSHEY — The Pennsylvania Friends of Agriculture Foundation honored two Pennsylvania educators with Teacher of the Year awards. This year’s winners were Blythe Heisey, who was honored as Teacher of the Year, while Jenna McIntire was selected as the Runner-up.
On Wednesday, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President and Foundation Chairman Chris Hoffman presented both women with their awards and prizes.
Highlighting the significance of agricultural education, PFB’s Ag Promotion Committee firmly believes that educating the public, starting with the youth, plays a vital role in fostering awareness about agriculture’s importance. Through this award, the Ag Promotion Committee aims to recognize the outstanding contributions of educators who go above and beyond to instill agricultural knowledge and understanding in their students.
“This award aims to honor educators who demonstrate exceptional commitment to teaching students about agriculture, and successfully integrating agricultural concepts into their curriculum. Both of our honorees shared these wonderful qualities,” said Hoffman.
Heisey, who teaches at South Lebanon Elementary School, is an alumna of the Educator’s Ag Institute program. The Institute is hosted by the Friends of Agriculture Foundation every summer, providing the opportunity for teachers to participate in hands-on workshops, tour farms, and learn how to weave agriculture into their classroom lesson plans. After attending these workshops, Heisey realized that despite living in a rural community with a country landscape right outside their classroom windows, students were struggling to understand how agriculture fit into their daily lives.
“I made the decision to do what I could, as a teacher, to advocate for agricultural literacy to be infused into the classroom and brought to our school in any way possible,” said Heisey.
Heisey began hosting a new “Ag Club” at her school, and her 4th grade students loved it. She expanded into an “Ag & STEM Club” for both 4th and 5th graders, with FFA officers from Cedar Crest High School visiting often to share their expertise with the younger students. From there, Martha Gregory from Lebanon County extension joined the club and helped facilitate a National 4-H STEM Challenge with the students. This year, Heisey will be hosting a new Ag Club for 3rd grade students.
But her agricultural advocacy didn’t stop with extracurriculars. Heisey explains, “As an elementary teacher, I see a great opportunity to take advantage of how agricultural concepts can be tied into any subject. A lot of agricultural concepts are tied into our classroom discussions and observations during lessons.”
Even other teachers at South Lebanon are learning more about agriculture in their community. One teacher came forward after the school took part in Ag Literacy Week and admitted she didn’t know that soy sauce comes from soybeans.
“It is by hosting opportunities like this that all ages will learn about agriculture and have a greater appreciation for the role it plays in our lives,” said Heisey.
Across the Susquehanna River in Cumberland County, McIntire teaches at Big Spring Middle School. She teaches more than 400 students each year, spanning three different grade levels. Her 6th grade students take an introduction to agriculture class, and her 7th and 8th graders take a more advanced class where they learn about animal identification, dissection, building greenhouses, and more.
“Students enjoy having the freedom to learn what interests them and are eager to discover how everything ties back to agriculture. Most of my students state that they wish they had started their projects earlier, because they wanted to spend more time on it,” McIntire said.
McIntire has been teaching for nine years, but in 2020 her students took things to the next level. They helped to charter an FFA chapter at Big Spring, making it the first Middle School FFA chapter in Pennsylvania.
“The FFA program has grown to over 60 students, and even students wanting to attend from outside my district. It is the largest organization at my school,” McIntire explains.
Her classes take field trips to visit local farms and industry locations every year and spend each morning tending to their hydroponics system and preparing for competitions.
“My students are hungry to learn more. They want to be engaged in the story of agriculture and they are making an impact in both our school and community,” said McIntire.
Both Heisey and McIntire received prizes with their recognition. McIntire received a $100 cash prize. Heisey received a $250 cash prize, another $250 to use for classroom supplies, and a trip to the National Ag In The Classroom conference in Salt Lake City next year.
Teachers interested in learning more about Educator’s Ag Institute can visit www.pfbfriends.com. Registration for the 2024 session will open on March 1, 2024.
ABOUT THE FOUNDATION: Pennsylvania Friends of Agriculture Foundation is a charitable organization supported by the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. The Foundation has been educating the public and promoting agriculture, the largest of the Commonwealth’s industries since its inception in 1986. To learn more about foundation programs, go to www.pfbfriends.com.