by Jared Spencer, Wyoming FFA 2nd Vice President
When we hear “agriculture education,” many of us immediately think of our local high school agriculture teacher. But there’s a vast network of other agriculture educators in our state, including the hardworking folks of the Cooperative Extension Service. Like our ag teachers, these dedicated men and women are on the front lines of educating a growing population about the importance of agriculture. In places like Crook County, 4-H educators and high school ag teachers work hand-in-hand to promote our industry.
Sara Fleenor is the 4-H educator in Crook County in Wyoming. Originally from Hulett, Fleenor was a 4-H and FFA member and participated in volleyball, band, choir and National Honor Society in high school. Fleenor showed beef and sewed for 4-H and FFA. Her family also owned a cattle operation outside of Hulett where they raised club and commercial calves.
Today, Fleenor is focused on teaching the youth of America about agriculture and where their food comes from. She also works to engage her 4-H members in STEM activities to show the ties between agriculture today and science and technology. One activity Fleenor leads is to go into local elementary school classrooms and work with those students on activities like growing vegetables, picking corn and making butter.
Fleenor says as our society has evolved, the average consumer has gotten further away from their food source, so it is more important now that ever before to show the consumer the costs associated with and the production of food, clothes and everyday life items.
Fleenor believes that for agriculture education to stay relevant in schools, educators must first care about their students and their subject. She credited Jim Pannel and Brian Kennah, (two of Crook County’s FFA advisors along with Hugh Jenkins), with being the kind of teachers who would do anything for their students. If either one of them saw a student who was passionate about agriculture, Fleenor said the men would latch onto the student’s fever and run with it. She credits Kennah, her own ag ed teacher, for helping her with public speaking skills back in high school.
“These are the ag teachers we need in this growing world of agriculture…people who are so passionate about what they do and the future of ag and the future of our youth that they inspire students like my ag teacher inspired me,” says Fleenor.
Fleenor feels one of the major successes of agriculture education is the practical, real-world skills students receive. If someone from a ranch walks into Pannel’s classroom for example, he will give them skills that they could take back to the ranch, while if someone from town walks in, he will give them skills they can apply to be as successful as possible in their chosen path.
“I feel like I’m making a big difference in the lives of our youth and I wouldn’t trade that part of my job for the world.”