Sauvola chosen as National Agriscience Teacher of the Year
Since the beginning of last school year, New Richmond High School agriscience instructor and FFA advisor Rachel Sauvola has been honored with many awards and invited to participate in a handful of professional development opportunities.
Little did Sauvola know that come this November, she would be honored as a National Agriscience Teacher of the Year by the National Association of Agricultural Educators. Sauvola, who won the award out of Region 3, will receive the top honor in Nashville, Tenn., at the NAAE Conference Nov. 18-22.
“This year has been very unique. I have been awarded five distinct honors that some agriscience instructors are never bestowed,” Sauvola said. “I don't know how I got to be so blessed as to receive them all in the first place, but also all in one year is amazing. This really hasn’t set in yet because it is just me and I am doing my thing. I love this or I wouldn’t be here.”
On Aug. 1, Sauvola received the news that she had been selected as the Region 3 National Agriscience Teacher of the Year. The award is sponsored at the national level by the Potash Corporation, an integrated producer of fertilizer, industrial and animal feed products, which will give each of of the six winners a grant for equipment for their programs and a personal cash award. Region 3 includes Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin. The award is split into regions because it is not fair to compare an ag program in Arizona to one in the Midwest, Sauvola said.
“Maybe not everybody knows that I am completely allergic to plants and animals, and I have to take pills every day before I come to school just to do my job,” Sauvola said. “I will continue to do this until the good Lord says I can’t anymore allergy-wise or whatever the case might be.”
Because of her allergies, Sauvola’s students take on a much greater role in her classroom and must step up as leaders in order for the classes to run smoothly.
“I’m blessed to have the students I have and I’m very thankful to have them. They are not afraid to jump right in with their hands and feet and make great things happen,” Sauvola said. “I’m also very thankful for my family, my husband and my kiddos. They stay home a lot while Mommy goes places with students and to professional development things.”
Sauvola’s whirlwind year started last November when she was nominated by her peers for the Wisconsin Association of Agricultural Educators Agriscience Teacher of the Year for Section 2. In December, she was selected as an XLR8 participant by NAAE -- a group of 20 teachers specially selected from across the country to work on agriscience educator retention. In January, the WAAE Executive Board selected Sauvola to be Wisconsin's Agriscience Teacher of the Year from the applications that were submitted, which meant she was then in the running to become a National Teacher of the Year.
In April, Sauvola learned that she was selected to be a DuPont National Agriscience Teacher Ambassador. She was one of 49 teachers selected from across the country for this opportunity, which took place in July. Also in April, Sauvola learned she was selected as an Honorary State FFA Degree recipient for outstanding service to agricultural education and FFA on the state level. Sauvola received the honor at the State FFA Convention in June.
“As I reflect on the blessings that each of these opportunities has brought me as an educator, I am in awe that it all happened at once,” Sauvola said. “I have always sought out professional development opportunities over the last 15 years to make myself a better educator and it's these sorts of things that benefit my students so greatly.”
For most ag teachers, becoming Agriscience Teacher of the Year is a lifelong dream. According to Sauvola, not only is she about five years younger than most ag teachers who receive the Teacher of the Year honor, but receiving the Honorary State FFA Degree is something most teachers accomplish posthumously.
“It's at conferences and visiting with other agriscience educators that I get inspired to build more and do more to benefit the kids,” Sauvola said. “None of this would have been possible without them working side by side with me in the classroom all these years. Certainly, none of this would have been possible either without the support of the NRSD Administration, maintenance and custodial staff, fellow teachers and the entire community standing with me in support of agricultural education.”
Named Agriscience Ambassador
From July 13-18, Sauvola successfully completed the 12th annual DuPont National AgriScience Teachers Ambassador Academy (NATAA) at the company’s Chesapeake Farms in Chestertown, Md. The NATAA “Ag Academy” is a professional development institute sponsored by DuPont and a special project of the National FFA Foundation and the National Association of Agricultural Educators (NAAE).
“The program is focused on inquiry based education, which tries to force students to ask why things happen, which is something that is discouraged a lot of the time,” Sauvola said. “It was a professional development opportunity that will be put to great use in the classroom as I train students and then also fellow agriscience teachers at that National FFA Convention and at the NAAE conference in Nashville in November during workshops that I will put on for them.”
Sauvola was one of 49 teachers across the country to attend the academy, which has trained 227 ag science teachers to date. As part of the academy, Sauvola was a guest of DuPont at their headquarters in Delaware as well as Chesapeake Farms in Maryland.
“I was able to tour the fifth-most secure building in the world, the Stine Haskell Research Lab, and meet with DuPont scientists and innovators, visit with all of the executives of the company at the DuPont Country Club and stay at Chesapeake Farms, a top notch wildlife and research farm,” Sauvola said. “The farm was fantastic. It was a really fun experience and I enjoyed my time at the academy. It was really wonderful professional development. I’m very thankful for being chosen.”
Even though Sauvola has reached the pinnacle of agriscience teaching, she knows that she is nowhere near finished with her teaching career and that she also can’t stop learning and growing as a teacher.
“Throughout my whole education spectrum as a teacher, I’m always looking for professional development,” Sauvola said. “There is an old saying that says, ‘You are either green and growing or ripe and rotten.’ And I always want to be green and growing, because if I’m not, then it is time for me to leave.”
Learning will always be paramount for Sauvola, especially since she will need to keep up with the growing agriculture field in order to give her students the best and most up-to-date information possible.
“Learning is a lifelong process,” Sauvola said. “The kids will be first to tell you that they taught me something on any given day. When you teach something as broad as agriculture, you can never become an expert in any one thing, because you always have to be juggling those plates of the soil, the plants, the animals and the food. You have to know a lot about a lot of different things.”
This school year, Sauvola wants to get more into aquaponics -- a system of aquaculture in which the waste produced by farmed fish or other aquatic animals supplies nutrients for plants grown hydroponically, which in turn purify the water -- as well as grow lettuce and tomatoes for the food service at the high school and Westfields Hospital.
“We have a market for it, so now it is our job as the teacher and students to figure out how do we make this work, how do we find the funds needed and how do we develop the equipment,” Sauvola said. “That is what I truly love about agriculture, it is always changing, especially in the technology. To be on the forefront of things and to make sure the kids are learning the most up-to-date information, I always have to be learning. I love the challenge of learning and growing and continuing on professionally. I don’t see myself stopping that any time soon.”