Teacher of the Year Past Winners
The Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation has selected Becky Streff for the 2021 Nebraska Agriculture in the Classroom Teacher of the Year honor. The Teacher of the Year is awarded to outstanding teachers that incorporate agriculture into their classroom through innovative ideas and lessons.
“The Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation is pleased to honor Becky Streff, a teacher who integrates agriculture into core classroom learning,” said Courtney Shreve, director of outreach education. “Her efforts to incorporate year-long learning with Nebraska Agriculture in the Classroom lessons and activities have helped students understand the vital message that agriculture is their source of food, fiber, and fuel.”
Streff has been teaching for 16 years, with 13 of those years at North Bend Central Elementary in Dodge County. Even though she teaches in a school that has many students who are growing up on farms, she still sees a need for them to understand the important connection between agriculture and the learning environment.
“Agriculture is part of our daily lives, has many connections to our future, and possible future careers,” said Streff. “As a teacher, I want to encourage my students to follow their dreams, learn from resources around them, and learn the importance of agriculture in their lives.”
When the students went to virtual learning in the spring of 2020, Streff got creative with her lessons and set up virtual field trips through Zoom to her students’ farms. The students talked about their animals with their classmates and how they got their animals ready for their county fairs. They were also able to meet with a veterinarian who shared the role she has in agriculture on a daily basis.
“Connections and daily life within agriculture were rich and visible during the virtual field trips,” said Streff. “It was a great opportunity to make the connections between agriculture and future careers.”
Streff has been part of the Ag Pen Pal Program for several years. The program matches a Nebraska classroom with a farmer or rancher in Nebraska. The pen pals write a series of letters to each other, giving students the opportunity to learn about farming first-hand, ask questions, and learn about different aspects of agriculture.
“There are often pictures that accompany the letters which help us see the farm, products, animals, and agriculture even better,” said Streff. “We often research the area of Nebraska where our pen pal lives, have class discussions, and compare and contrast our farming area with that of our pen pal’s.”
Streff also uses many of the Nebraska Agriculture in the Classroom lessons plans which align with Nebraska education standards.
“The lesson plans provided by AITC connect nicely to our learning of the environment, food cycles, food webs, and animals,” said Streff. “I look forward to accessing more of the lessons to benefit my students’ learning and opportunities to understand science and agriculture with quality hands-on experiences.”
Streff will receive an expense-paid trip to the National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference, an accurate agriculture book bundle featuring 12 books and corresponding literature guides, and a $250 cash prize. The conference, held June 28 – July 1, 2021 in Des Moines, IA, brings educators together from all over the United States to learn how to use agricultural concepts to effectively teach core subjects such as reading, math, science, and social studies. The conference features recognition for Teacher of the Year honorees, educational workshops, traveling workshops to agribusinesses and research facilities, and farm tours.
“I am honored and humbled to earn this award,” said Streff. “The opportunities are endless, and I feel it is important to build these connections since agriculture is an important part of Nebraska. Additionally, to cross-curricular connections, many of my students live on a farm, so not only are we learning educationally, but we are also able to build relationships through agriculture.
Arlys Cupp, a second-grade teacher at Chase County Schools in Imperial, was honored at a surprise ceremony at the school on Jan. 13.
“The Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation is pleased to honor Arlys Cupp, a teacher who demonstrates a strong connection between core classroom learning and agriculture all year in the classroom,” said Courtney Schaardt, director of outreach education. “She creatively incorporates lessons and activities that help students understand that agriculture is their source of food, fiber, and fuel.”
Cupp has been a teacher in Southwestern Nebraska for 35 years. Throughout those years, she has continuously incorporated agriculture into her curriculum. Cupp uses many ways to connect learning and agriculture into core subject areas like language arts, math, social studies, and science.
Cupp’s classroom uses Nebraska Agriculture in the Classroom resources to help the students learn and understand that agriculture is part of their lives every day. From the food they eat to the clothes they wear, agriculture is all around them.
One of Cupp’s favorite programs is the Ag Pen Pal program. Her classroom partners with a rancher in the sandhills who has a cattle operation. The classroom and the pen pal write letters to each other throughout the school year. Their pen pal shows them the importance of cattle being produced to feed the population and how crops are produced and harvested in our state.
“Letter writing skills are taught and improved while the students learn about agriculture in Nebraska,” said Cupp. “The friendships and relationships developed are personal and create a real-life connection to agriculture for the students.”
Cupp uses many of the accurate agriculture books that the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation recommends in her language arts class. One of her favorites is First Peas to the Table by Susan Grigsby. The book is based on a contest that Thomas Jefferson held with his friends and neighbors every year. The book integrates school gardens, history, and seasonal weather themes into a fun-to read book. Cupp developed an hour-long lesson to go with the book where the students learn about Thomas Jefferson, farming throughout history, and modern-day agriculture.
“After we read the book, each student received a package of peas to plant at home,” said Cupp. “I received pictures all summer long of the pea plants and produce the students grew to eat with their families.”
Cupp is also involved with 4-H and FFA. Cupp has been a 4-H leader for 26 years and has lead projects in the areas of livestock, vet science, gardening, cooking, S.T.E.M, and communications. She enjoys watching the children explore and excel in agriculture related areas while challenging them to further their knowledge and expand their projects.
On her own farm, Cupp grows 2.5 acres of pumpkins and has a corn maze and pumpkin patch that is open to the public on the weekends. She enjoys being able to incorporate Farm Bureau’s companion resources as part of the unit she teaches on pumpkins. Each Christmas her classroom sends hand-painted, dried gourds to their Ag Pen Pal.
“I feel so privileged to be able to teach my students about the generations before us and their agriculture practices,” said Cupp. “Many of my students have grown into individuals with successful agriculture careers. I’m so lucky that I get to be a part of what interests them in agriculture at such an early age.”
Dolezal has been part of the Ag Pen Pal Program for 15 years. Her classroom’s pen pals are Neal and Carol Pavlish in Saline County. Her fourth-grade students eagerly read the letters about their pen pals’ crops, facts about the animals, and the perseverance of being on a farm. Each spring, Dolezal’s class takes a field trip to Pavlish’s farm in Crete where the Pavlish family shares the joys and day-to-day work at the farm. This includes gathering eggs from their chickens, the process of planting corn using a planter and tractor, and getting up close with the cows.
“A favorite activity is feeding the Black Angus steers hay through the fence,” said Dolezal. “At the farm is where they begin to understand the fact that these steers provide meat at their homes or in restaurants.”
Dolezal grew up on a farm in Pawnee County. She often relates agriculture back to what the kids are learning in school. She processed honey for her family table, so she shares the importance of bees as pollinators to her students. Her family also milked cows and sold cream, so when her students make butter out of cream she can help them understand where butter comes from.
This year is Spaulding’s third year participating in the Ag Pen Pal Program. Her class also attends the Foundation’s popular Virtual Field Trips. These field trips use technology to allow farmers and ranchers to open their barn doors to show students what happens on their farms and ranches. The farmer or rancher uses a tablet to connect with classrooms to be a part of a live video-chat allowing students to ask questions. Spaulding’s class attended a virtual field trip to a pig farm where they got to see baby pigs and learn about the care they receive and how they grow.
“It’s amazing how technology can connect students to a far-away place and make them feel like they are there from our very own classroom!” Spaulding said. “Many of my students do not have experience with agriculture or rural life on the farm or ranch, so this has given them the chance to see what farm life is like first hand.”
Spaulding’s grandfather was a farmer in Minden for most of his life, so she knows firsthand what it takes to work the land, grow the crops, and put so much of yourself into this career. Spaulding feels an obligation to pass the import lessons her grandpa gave her to her students.
“Farming is the cornerstone to our economy in Nebraska, and we need to teach our students these lessons,” Spaulding said. “Being a native Nebraskan has given me the opportunity to share those values and experiences that are so deeply rooted in living in the Midwest!”
Stephanie Wolf is a special education teacher at Brady Public Schools in Brady. Stephanie brings agriculture into her classrooms with the Lincoln County Farm Bureau Learning Barn, live animals, and hatching chicks in her classroom. She also brings in her own knowledge of life experiences on the farm to help the students understand and connect to their projects.
“By bringing in the live animals and showing the kids where their food and fiber come from, it gives them real-life experiences that they might not otherwise have,” says Stephanie. “Through these real-life interactions, the student learns much more than just from a book.”
Mrs. Wolf enjoys the Eggology unit the most. To keep the lesson interactive and hands-on, students help setup the incubator, build a pen, and watch the chicks hatch from the shells in the springtime. Students stay involved by feeding and watering the chicks while learning of the important job farmers and ranchers have to their livestock every day.
Jennifer Johnson teaches third grade at Sutton Public Schools in Sutton, Nebraska a farming community, so she was shocked when her students struggled to answer her question of “What is agriculture?” That is when she knew she needed to do more this year with agriculture.
Johnson incorporated agriculture into her classroom by transforming her classroom into a farm.
“I knew it was going to be a lot of work, but I also knew this was a class that needed hands-on learning and would learn from these activities,” she said.
She asked the students to dress up like someone who lives on a farm. When the students came in the next morning, they were in awe. They saw straw bales, a saddle, feed, barns, farm equipment, books, magazines, and animals. The rest of the morning, the students discussed each item and how each was used on the farm. In the afternoon, Johnson invited a rancher to visit the classroom and talk about their jobs and how the animals had to be taken care of every day, even on weekends and holidays and in all kinds of weather.
“This activity brought to life agriculture in Nebraska and how important it is to know where your food is coming from,” Johnson said. “In this day and age, we have many types of learners, and my hope was to reach these students in one way or another to appreciate agriculture and life in Nebraska.”