Big Foot ag teachers garnering national attention
WALWORTH The agriculture education program at Big Foot High School is getting a lot of national attention because teachers Lisa Konkel and Rick Henningfeld take their classes in a different direction.
Konkel recently was honored with a $10,000 award from the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation and the American Farm Bureau Foundation for her innovative approach to agriculture education.
Henningfeld this summer was named the Wisconsin Agriscience Teacher of the Year and now is in the running to be the National Agriscience Teacher of the Year because of his unique approach to agriculture curriculum.
Agriculture is changing, Konkel said. Farming makes up just 2 percent of ag careers nowadays; science and technology are the basis for the other 98 percent of careers in agriculture in the 21st century, she said.
“We try to find out what’s out there, what’s the leading edge that will help our students transition to the next avenue,” Konkel said. “We want them to think about things, about careers that are going to make a difference in the world of agriculture.”
Agriculture relates to all the physical and life sciences in some way, Henningfeld said. Students with interests in chemistry or biology can make an impact in the ag industry, he said.
“Our theory is if a student knows the science of agriculture, they can make educated decisions in the production of agriculture,” Henningfeld said. “The more traditional way of teaching agriculture is to teach students skills and have them use those skills for a job. But we teach them to think critically and hope it helps them to be better at their jobs.”
Konkel has been teaching at Big Foot for more than 15 years, and she was named state and national Agriscience Teacher of the Year in 1998.
Henningfeld knew of her success, and he requested to student-teach with her as a college student.
Konkel convinced the school district to add a second ag teacher to the program, and Henningfeld was hired five years ago.
The teachers believe students must have a solid science base to succeed in agriculture.
They don’t use textbooks but teach from hands-on lab exercises. Students in their classes learn about veterinary care and genetics and pharmaceuticals. They do research, conduct experiments and interact with live farm animals and real crops.
Konkel applied for the $10,000 award because she thought the money would go to the school and could help the ag department. She has since learned the money was for her, but she plans to use it to offset the costs of a farmette—a home for her family and a sort of satellite classroom for her classes.
“This (award) validates what I do in the classroom every day,” she said. “I hope that it is helping kids with their futures, and I hope those futures come back to impact our community…”
Henningfeld received a $500 stipend and the school received $1,500 because he is a finalist for the national teaching award. He was not sure how he or the department would use the cash.
“You do your job every day and hope you do it right, and it feels good when other people recognize that,” he said. “It’s humbling to know you’re doing the right thing for kids.”