Teacher of the Year Awards
MAC is proud to announce that our Teacher of the Year for 2013 is Cynthia Jensen, Science Teacher at Gateway Regional High School in Huntington, where she teaches Biology, Biotechnology, Anatomy & Physiology and Forensics. Cyndi is such a huge fan and supporter of MAC, that she has taken our Summer Graduate Course for the past three summers and enlisted other teachers to take it as well. We have enjoyed the enthusiastic way that she can take any aspect of agriculture and adapt it for teaching her students, spinning out ideas for other teachers to use as well.
In 2012, she hosted one of our summer workshops on the farm at her home in Worthington - with a focus on fibers. Participants met her angora bunnies and had the chance to try spinning, weaving, and felting before touring a local fiber farm. She also taught a workshop on pollen in forensics for our 2012 Winter Conference.
Cyndi is an avid gardener at home and also helped start a garden at her school in 2004. In addition to her angora bunnies, she has raised bees and chickens. She received a BA in biological sciences and English language and literature from Smith College in 1996 and a MA in Biology from University of Nebraska-Kearney in 2011. She started teaching at Gateway Regional High School in 2001, where she has had a positive influence teaching her students with real life examples, including agriculture.
Congratulations Cyndi! Cyndi will receive her award during the lunch program at our November 9, 2013, Greening the School Conference in Brookline.
MAC is proud to announce that our Teacher of the Year for 2012 is Jessica Ouimet, 5th grade teacher at the Philip G. Coburn Elementary School in West Springfield. Jessica participated in our 2010 Summer Graduate Course, where we quickly discovered her wealth of knowledge and experience with growing and raising her own food, and sharing that knowledge with her students. Since then Jessica has offered two workshops on chickens and embryology for our Winter Conferences and also welcomed teachers to her home in Westfield and fledgling farm in Russell for an educational workshop. We truly appreciate her support of MAC and her enthusiasm for agriculture, which she shares readily with others.
Building on the experiences of raising all of her own meat and growing and canning much of her own fruits and vegetables, Jessica tries to pass on and teach her students a life-long respect and knowledge for the world around them and the part they play in this world. While many of her students and their parents have always lived in suburbia, the school also houses the district's ELL elementary students, many of whom have farming backgrounds or their parents have farming backgrounds. These students bring a different perspective to her classroom.
Jessica’s and Alan’s farm is located in Russell, the next town over from where they live in Westfield. They purchased the land in 2003 with the intention of building a home there. They married in 2004 in the field.
The farming piece started with hatching chicks in the classroom, when she decided to keep them as part of an egg laying flock. To the hatched white leghorns, they added seven other chicks of other varieties. That first flock had just 15 chickens and now the laying flock consists of around 80 chickens, 4 turkeys, and 6 guinea fowl, and 13 ducks.
Of course, that first batch of chicks had many roosters (too many for such a small flock) and the extras became dinners. Jessica says “This was the first time I had to look my food in the eye and take care of it personally. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done, but I have developed a whole new level of respect for my food.”
Since then, Jess will not buy or eat any conventionally raised meat. They raise all of our own meat poultry (chickens, turkeys, ducks) and now pigs as well. This allows them to ensure that the animals who will become their food will have a happy, healthy existence where they can be outside in the sun and fresh air, have adequate space, eat grass (and other tasty plants) and bugs. She tells us “I respect and value their lives too much to accept anything less. Plus, I feel the meat our animals produce is of a higher quality when compared to conventionally raised.”
The small amount of beef they eat comes from another local farm with similar values. They also purchase milk from a local grass-based dairy. They are all about humane treatment and respect for the animals.
Jessica lives by the philosophy “It is out of this respect that I share my love of hatching, raising, and keeping chickens. I feel if more people were educated about where their food comes from, more people would demand change -- change in the grocery store and therefore change on their dinner plates.”
Because of this deep respect for raising her own food, Jessica blogs about the farm and her experiences, and also enjoys helping other teachers start their own embryology projects. It offers her a chance to pass on the knowledge and hopefully the passion!
Jessica does hatch chicks every year with her students, and this last school year they hatched turkey poults and guinea fowl keets as well. She is passionate about keeping these animals and feels any time you can share something you love with your students, they can tell and the excitement is contagious. You get a higher level of buy in and investment from your students.
Jessica has also brought students to the local farmers' market. She used the trip to introduce the idea of getting kids interested in eating healthier, understanding seasonality, and valuing where their food comes from. Along this same thought of knowing where your food comes from and how it is produced, she has brought in maple sap collected from one of the taps on her farm, which they boiled down into maple syrup.
The students were amazed in observing the sap to syrup ratio (which would mean nothing to them without the visual). She helped establish a garden at school (donating many plants by splitting things from her own garden) which has provided many learning opportunities (plant life cycle, composting, how changes in weather affect plants, etc.). Students have snacked from it, sometimes eating fresh onions and raw cabbage right out of the garden at recess!
They saved seed in the fall and used those seeds to start new plants (tomatoes and basil) in the spring. These plants went home with the students to hopefully start (or add to) their own gardens. Jessica reports “What I have found is that there are many agriculture related topics which can assist in teaching required curriculum, in areas other than just science! Jessica tells us "Ultimately, through these experiences, what I try to pass on and teach my students is a life-long respect and knowledge for the world around them and the part they play in this world as future stewards of this planet."
MAC is proud to announce that our 2011 Teacher of the Year is Teresa Strong, science specialist at Harvard-Kent Elementary School in Charleston. Teresa participated in our 2007 Summer Graduate Course and was awarded two mini-grants from MAC in 2007 and again in 2011. She has taught several workshops for other teachers at our annual conferences. Always one of MAC's biggest advocates, Teresa shares notices of our education programs with Boston school educators. We enjoy her enthusiasm for agriculture and science, as well as her readiness to share.
Teresa has a Bachelors Degree in English and a Masters in Elementary Education and another in Middle School Science Education. She has worked in the Boston Public Schools for 19 years as a science specialist, computer teacher, 4th grade teacher and a peer teacher leader. She has helped present teacher workshops on gardening and outdoor science education with the Boston Natural Areas Network, Boston Schoolyard Initiative and the Boston Public Schools.
Teresa's tells us "her interest in gardening and nature started in childhood, where I went through stages of focused self-education--from herpetology, entomology, and aquatic life. As a young adult, I went on to work at nature centers, summer
camps, and after school programs where I learned to be a naturalist educator and hands-on science educator. When I was 24, I got my first house plant from a friend and promptly killed it. It was through this event that I
developed a budding interest in plants, so I joined a community garden in Boston." It was there that she I learned from other gardeners about many different types of plants, the pests that harm them, and various organic
gardening techniques to get maximum output from food plants. "It was through gardening that I first understood myself as a participant in nature, not just an outside observer. It was then I started to develop a deep understanding of ecology and ecosystems-how everything is connected and is there for a reason."
When Teresa started her career in Boston Public Schools, her naturalist and gardening experience naturally oozed into what sheI taught in the classroom. She found that hands-on experiences gave all students access to the curriculum, but felt that she wasn't providing them with the same kind of deep and enjoyable experiences that motivated me her as child to become a self directed learner. She tried doing activities outside in the concrete covered schoolyard, but that felt contrived. They hatched chickens inside, and that was real exciting for about 6 weeks, but she decided what was really needed was a schoolyard garden that could be used all year-a place where children could learn about many different science topics while participating in the real life struggle of survival in nature: Why are plants here? How and why are they different? What do they need? What animals need them?
Unfortunately, all she had to work with was one raised bed with very bad soil. And so they grew sick plants in wormless soil. Then out of the blue, she got an e-mail from Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom announcing
a farm based summer college course. She signed up and tells us she was not disappointed. During the graduate experience with MAC she got to be on farms with real farmers,who were raising real food for real people. She learned from fellow educators how to bring agricultural content into her classroom in an engaging way. And she tells us "she learned so much more - the hallmark of experiential learning in an authentic setting. The timing was perfect - when I returned to school that fall, Boston Natural Areas Network, had just launched its schoolyard gardening program called SLUG or Students Learning through Urban Gardening. I got involved with that program and that Spring our school received two dump truck loads of compost, garden tools, seeds, worm bins, etc. I'll never forget one little soil-covered boy looking up at me as I filled his bucket with compost, joyfully exclaiming:'I want to be a scientist when I grow up!' "
Teresa now teaches science at the Harvard Kent Elementary in Charlestown. The school is outfitted with several grow labs where students have started numerous plants from seed, but they have no outdoor gardening space. Last year, the school will began planning a new schoolyard it is building through a grant from the Boston Schoolyard initiative. Teresa's fifth grade students are getting the chance to design their versions of the new schoolyard. After
their trip Fall to the Big E, generously funded by MA Ag in the Classroom and the Trustees of the Big E,she things they may included a full-blown farm in their designs! Congratulations Teresa! We wishe you and your students a productive agricultural year.
MAC is proud to announce that our Teacher of the Year for 2010 is Cassandra Uricchio, who teaches agriculture and life science at Mount Everett High School in Sheffield. Cassie participated in our 2007 Summer Graduate Course. She was awarded a mini-grant in 2008 to construct a school farm on campus. We have been inspired by her energy and passion for teaching agriculture and the many new programs she created.
The local Sheffield community shares our enthusiasm for Cassie and her agricultural education efforts. We received nomination letters from the school's principal; director of technology and vocational education; FFA president; the regional school district and the executive director of the Land Trust as well as a local farmer. All applauded her energy and drive and the connections she makes with her students, while also linking agriculture and the community.
After receiving a B.S. in Animal Science from UConn and a M.S. in Agricultural Education from NC State University, Cassie began teaching at Mt. Everett in 2006. She started a new agriscience program & FFA chapter in 2007. She developed new courses including Agricultural Biology; Agri-Science & Biotechnology; Animal Science, Plant Science; Pathobiology, and Fish & Wildlife Management. In the community she collaborated with the building structures program to raise a barn on school campus. Cassie is currently on leave of absence to return to NCSU on full assistantship to finish her Ed.D in Agricultural & Extension Education. We congratulate her and wish her the best in her studies.
Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom is proud to announce that our Teacher of the Year for 2009 is Robert Cote, who teaches fifth grade at the Jordan Jackson School in Mansfield. Bob participated in our Summer Graduate Course in 2008. Since then he has taught three workshops for other teachers at our winter conferences and offered a summer workshop focusing on goats on his own farm in Pascoag, RI. We have been inspired by his enthusiasm for teaching, passion for animals and the knowledge he shares with others.
For over 25 years, Bob worked as an information technology consultant for a Fortune 500 financial company. During that time he and his family lived on a small farm where he raised various animals, honeybees, and grew a large organic garden. For a long time however, he held onto the dream of one day making a difference in the lives of children and giving something back. That dream became a reality when he left his full time career to consult part time while studying to be a teacher.
Bob received a Masters of Art in Teaching from Simmons College in 2004 and soon began teaching at the Jordan Jackson School. His classroom is alive with the experiments he and his students develop, from composting earthworms, to growing crystals and raising plants in soil and hydroponically. He continually entertains his students with the latest antics of the animals on his farm where he lives with his wife Mary and raises dairy goats, sheep, honeybees, chickens, some "strange" dogs and more.
Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom is proud to announce that our Teacher of the Year for 2008 is Becky Bottomley, who has been teaching Biology, Environmental Science and Horticulture at Quabbin Regional High School in Barre for the past ten years. In that time she has attended many MAC workshops, hosted a full-day greenhouse study course at her school and also taught soils and plant propagation for our winter conference. We have all been inspired by her enthusiasm for teaching and the knowledge she shares with others.
Becky grew up on a Connecticut farm with many farm animals, an orchard, corn fields, large vegetable garden and Christmas trees. She gained a lot of experience working in the family-owned farm supply business and garden center. Her love of plants and animals led her to major in Biology at the University of Connecticut, and then to teaching - first at Marlborough High School and later in Barre. Becky and her husband and three children now live in Hardwick, Mass. in a renovated 1830s farmhouse. They have raised cows, chickens, sheep, pigs and have large vegetable and flower gardens.
Becky integrates many hands-on activities into her classroom and also uses the school grounds as an outdoor classroom. Students landscape the school grounds and Quabbin Regional School District's Central Office and plant flowers on the Barre Common for Memorial Day. Becky also coaches the Quabbin Envirothon team, preparing them for this statewide environmental competition. Consistently Quabbin's team wins many awards. Becky also received the Secretary's Award for Excellence in Energy and Environmental Education in Massachusetts in 2008. Her classroom is an inspiration and we congratulate him!
2007 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year
Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom is proud to announce our Teacher of the Year for 2007. Bill Cassell is a third-grade teacher at the L.D. Batchelder School in North Reading. Over the past several years, Bill has attended MAC workshops contributing his insights, received a mini-grant to support his Field to Plate Program and taught a workshop for educators at our 2007 Conference. We have been inspired by his enthusiasm for teaching and his program where students grow wheat, corn, beans, potatoes and apples and then make food from their crops based on the foods that immigrants would have brought with them.
After graduating from Harvard College and Harvard Business School, Bill worked as a manager in the newspaper publishing industry for almost 20 years. During much of this time, his focus was on developing and leading managers in acts of radical and continuous change.
To be with his newborn son, Bill began consulting in 1992, which gave him time to volunteer in an elementary school near his home in Lexington. In the classroom of Steven Levy, Mass. Teacher of the Year in 1992, he realized that teaching elementary students was immensely satisfying and probably a more efficient way of implementing change in society than managing adults. Bill subsequently earned a Master's Degree in Education from Lesley College and began teaching 3rd grade at the Batchelder School in 2000. His classroom is an inspiration and we congratulate him!
MAC is proud to announce our Teacher of the Year for 2006. Regina Adams was nominated by her principal, April Graziano of First Assembly Christian School in Worcester, for her impressive ability to teach kindergarten students about the world around them.
She wrote, "Regina Adams is a leader in our school community. Her love for animals, plants, farming and other agricultural areas easily helps other people learn and enriches every aspect of her classroom. Parents comment about the depth of knowledge their children gain from her. She led other teachers in visiting a local turkey farm, grocery store and African grocery store. Related cooking activities helped the students understand the processes that change farm or grocery products."
In 2005, Regina received a grant from MAC to explore "Where Does My Food Come From?" She linked this theme to units from social studies and science as well as the state standards in language arts and math. Students learned about life cycles of plants and animals, community interrelationships, family living, environmental concerns, natural resources, seasonal changes, and effect of time and geography, especially related to foods.
MAC sponsored Regina's attendance at the National AITC Conference in Atlantic City in. She wrote us the day she returned to say, "I am still on a high of excitement; I woke up creating a book in my mind about growing beets with phonemics. I've never been to a conference where people were so hospitable and willing to share. This has been a highlight of my teaching career. Thank you for this honor of being Teacher of the Year and privilege of attending the National Conference."
Regina was raised in a dairy family in Springfield, Vermont. All seven children worked in the barn, fields, garden and house. She attended the University of Vermont, studying agriculture before switching to elementary education. She used this education to home-school her own four children and teach in private and public schools, the last ten at First Assembly Christian School. This summer Regina returned with her family to Vermont, where she will teach first grade.
MAC is proud to announce our Teacher of the Year for 2005. William Pineda is a seventh-grade life-science teacher at the Nissitissit Middle School in Pepperell. Bill has had a lifelong love affair with agriculture. Agricultural activities and concepts are part of his approach to Curriculum Frameworks.
Bill spent his teens working on various farms in central Massachusetts. Then he majored in Animal Science at the University of New Hampshire, specializing in poultry management and pathology. In the 1990s he joined the Peace Corps, first as a Poultry Extensionist in St. Vincent, West Indies and then working as a staff member in Washington, D.C., where he placed agriculture volunteers. He then became a Peace Corps Fellow and began his career teaching middle-school science.
Bill is starting his fourteenth year teaching and will continue running his small farm in Ashby, which provides some food as well as plants and animals for school. Students are involved in breeding rabbits, pigeons and rats to understand reproduction, ethics, nutrition, animal care and genetics. Each year, children select a rooster and hens from Bill's flock to be bred and 100 or more chicks are hatched in an incubator in the classroom.
Students are also involved in some landscaping of the school grounds. They plant and maintain a large garden, orchard, Christmas tree "plantation", and sugar bush. They raise all plants necessary for use in the classroom and collect sap to turn into maple syrup. The integration of agriculture and the environment are studied with topics such as the interaction of wildlife and plant communities with the school grounds. Students also maintain a bluebird trail, vernal pool study and a wildlife observation center.
Bill's classes are among the most popular in the school because he knows that middle-school students learn by doing. His greatest desire is to share his love of nature, agriculture and biology with his pupils and to contribute to maintaining an interest in keeping the rural undeveloped aspects to the towns in his school district.
MAC is seeking nominations now for the 2013 MAC Teacher of the Year Award. Do you know a teacher who does an exceptional job of bringing agriculture alive in their classroom? Consider nominating them for this special award. Send a description of their agricultural classroom, and the reason that you recommend them for the award, to the address below. Applications are due March 15, 2013. The winner will be high-lighted in the Fall 2013 MAC newsletter and the award will be presented at our MAC Annual Fall Greening the School Conference in November of 2013.