2021 VASWCD CONSERVATION EDUCATION TEACHER OF THE YEAR
The Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts awarded Josh Fleenor, Ag teacher at Cumberland County High School, as 2021 Conservation Education Teacher of the Year for the Secondary Level (Grades 6-12).
Mr. Fleenor’s agriculture classes focus on promoting leadership and developing workplace readiness skills. Even though his program is in the developmental stages with a heavy focus on animal and horticulture production agriculture, all of what he teaches shares a common goal in promoting environmental stewardship and best management practices to promote agriculture. It's through mindful stewardship and management of the natural resources utilized in agriculture practices that agriculturalists can make the most impact. This balance is essential not just for the environment but also in profitability and consumer safety.
His program is a safe place where students can express themselves while becoming more educated consumers. He understands that not every student will work in agriculture, but he hopes that they will understand that even as a consumer, they are directly part of the agricultural industry. His students built a chicken coop over Christmas break with donated materials. Eggs were collected daily. Some of the eggs were prepared and consumed in class. Eggs were given to faculty and staff, and many of them were donated to the food pantry to be distributed to community members. The flock is used as a means for students who have interest in completing a school-based, worth-based learning project on managing their own chicken flock to develop entrepreneurial skills.
Not all of his students are members of the Future Farmers of America (FFA), but as FFA Advisor, Mr. Fleenor involves FFA members as well as non-members who are in agricultural education in FFA activities. His students competed in the FFA forestry judging contest, state tractor driving contest, state ag mechanics contest and state middle school contest. They had two livestock judging teams compete at the Block and Bridle livestock judging competition through Virginia Tech and they had the Grand Champion dairy steer at the Piedmont Junior Area Livestock Show. They sold plants, conducted a wreath-making workshop, sold fruit and began greenhouse vegetable production to raise funds and engage in the community. The Cumberland County High School Chapter received the gold state superior chapter award. They had a one American degree recipient (the highest degree an FFA member can receive) and a state degree recipient at this year’s FFA State Convention, as well as, a Young Farmers discussion meet state finalist.
Mr. Fleenor served as co-coach of the high school’s Envirothon Team. The team took second place at the Area V competition and went on to compete at the state level. One of the team members has taken her experiences from agriculture classes, FFA activities and Envirothon and completely changed her plan of education to include Environment/Natural Resources as her field of focus. This student also participated in Youth Conservation Camp and Chesapeake Bay Foundation student experiences over the summer.
There are four cornerstone principles that Mr. Fleenor works with, which also happen to be the principles of Life Push LLC, the mentoring group he is a part of:
He operates in excellence, not perfection
He understands perspectives drive outcomes daily, and works accordingly
A person’s true purpose fulfilled is worth it
He believes success is a perspective away
Each day, Mr. Fleenor strives to apply this ideology through his work with his students. He is all about “Changing Lives”, whether it be in the classroom or outside the classroom. His goal is to help his students find their true purpose whether it be through Envirothon, FFA, showing animals, teaching workplace readiness skills or just giving them the nudge they need to step out of their comfort zone. As Mr. Fleenor put it, “Helping others shine a light on their God-given talents is an honor in and of itself.”
Mr. Fleenor raises Simmental and Angus Cross cattle with his wife and three children and enjoys all that farm life has to offer. He also enjoys drawing and painting, music, running, hiking, riding horses and reading non-fiction. He knows he “would not be where he is today without the blessings of a firm foundation in his family—they certainly tolerate my busyness.”
The Peter Francisco Soil and Water Conservation District was pleased to nominate Mr. Fleenor and very pleased that the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts bestowed this honor on him.
2020 VASWCD CONSERVATION EDUCATION TEACHER OF THE YEAR
Mr. Andrew J. Schmitt, Welding Instructor at the Buckingham County High School Career and Technical Center, received the Conservation Education Award for Secondary School Teacher from both Peter Francisco SWCD and at the state level by the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts. Mr. Schmitt began coaching an Envirothon Team for Buckingham County High School (BCHS) five years ago. The BCHS Envirothon team has qualified and competed at the Area and State level. The areas of study for Mr. Schmitt’s conservation education program are aquatics, forestry, soils, wildlife and whatever special topic is assigned each year for the competition. Additionally, Mr. Schmitt serves as a Future Farmers of America (FFA) Advisor assisting with the Environmental and Natural Resources contest at the Virginia FFA State Convention. He is also the Agricultural Mechanics Coach for High School and Middle School Teams, as well as providing coaching assisting with the team topics of Small Animal Care, Job Interview; Middle School Crops; and Middle School Plant Science. Mr. Schmitt works with an array of students, whether they are bound for the work force or college. He heavily encourages environmental studies for college-bound students after introducing them to the field through Future Farmers of America and the Envirothon Team. He is very instrumental in promoting the District’s scholarship program to these students as well. Mr. Schmitt also serves on the ECMC Nominating Committee, which is a scholarship program for Buckingham County Seniors. He even offers guidance on which school to attend in order to best meet a student’s goals. He trains those students who are headed directly to the work force and then helps them find jobs—whether it be in welding, forestry, farming, or military service.
2019 PFSWCD CONSERVATION EDUCATION TEACHER OF THE YEAR
Mrs. Lindsay Absher Brown received Peter Francisco Soil and Water Conservation District's 2019 Conservation Education Teacher of the Year Award. Mrs. Brown has been teaching at Buckingham County Primary School for the last 10 years. Mrs. Brown grew up on a farm in Buckingham County. As a result, she has a passion for incorporating conservation education in her classroom. She has a Circle of Life picture in her classroom to teach life cycles of frogs, butterflies and the water cycle. She has used her classroom to expose her students to many living creatures--just recently hatching chickens in an incubator provided by the local 4-H office. Mrs. Brown also incorporates "from the farm to the table" into her curriculum. Her classroom reading library is loaded with books related to the environment. Each year Mrs. Brown coordinates with PFSWCD to offer an array of conservation education programs including Wildlife, Soil Babies, Soil Tunnel, Incredible Journey, Pollinators, Erosion Experiments, and Recycling Relay. Mrs. Brown also ensures K-2 summer school students are exposed to environmental education by inviting the District to provide summer programs.
VASWCD's 2017 CONSERVATION EDUCATION TEACHER OF THE YEAR
Shane Gough Vencil, Special Ed Teacher at Buckingham County Middle School, was chosen as the District's 2017 Conservation Education Teacher of the Year. She was also selected at the state level as the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts' Conservation Education Teacher of the Year. Congratulations!!!!
Mrs. Vencil attended the Virginia Mountains to the Bay Watershed Academy and came back to Buckingham County Middle School inspired to look at how outdoor education could be expanded on campus. She organized and chaired an Outdoor Classroom Committee to create a functional, inspiring environment that would encourage outdoor experiences on the school’s campus for all students in grades 6 through 8 including gifted and students with disabilities. Further, she applied for, and received a grant to provide professional development training for Buckingham County teachers in Project WET, WILD and Learning Tree so they can incorporate conservation education into their curriculum. For many years, Shane taught 6th grade special Education students. This year she is working with 8th grade special education students. Shane has assisted with planning the 6th Grade Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences (MWEE’s) with the District and Buckingham VCE, in order to ensure that her students can fully participate, regardless of their mobility or other challenges. School has only been in session a couple of weeks, but her 8th grade students have already been outside to tour the school’s green house and gardens.
In order to meet the goal of establishing an Outdoor Classroom, Shane pulled together a resource team, which included the Buckingham County Middle School Ecology Club, the Buckingham FFA Chapter, the Buckingham County High School Building and Trades Class, the Buckingham County High School Agriculture Class, Buckingham and Cumberland Virginia Cooperative Extension, Peter Francisco Soil & Water Conservation District, NRCS-Buckingham Service Center, VDGIF, VDOF, DCR, Buckingham Garden Club, Virginia Master Naturalists, Master Gardeners and Boy and Girl Scouts. After the resource team coordinated a plan for the Outdoor Classroom, Shane spearheaded the application process for a grant from Dominion Energy. They successfully received a grant in the amount of $7,000.
The Outdoor Classroom space is being used to combat nature-deficit disorder by creating outdoor learning opportunities with a STEM emphasis. Numerous SOL-related conservation education programs have been conducted there, including Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences (MWEE) programs. The Outdoor Classroom has been divided up into three (3) phases for installation. Phase 1 of the Outdoor Classroom includes planting butterfly bushes and stationing bird feeders, houses and baths (constructed by the high school building trades class) directly outside each wing of the campus for all students to observe. It also includes a dry river bed and rain garden/seasonal wetland, flower gardens, a knot garden and observation areas, an arboretum with identification markers for trees and educational areas. The Virginia Department of Forestry recommended tree species suitable for the space; those seedlings were then purchased from VDOF. Classes have been organized so that each student at the middle school can partake in a meaningful part of this phase. Students will have hands-on involvement, such as measuring and calculating the placement of bushes/shrubbery in assigned areas, as well as, the actual physical work of planting the trees and shrubs. VDOF staff, VCE staff, and PFSWCD staff have participated in helping the students with these activities. Not only are these activities designed to increase learning opportunities, but we hope to decrease some of the erosion on the embankment to the rear of the school, while we are learning! Phase 2 will consist of the construction of an outdoor pavilion for student observation and instruction (we hope the Building and Trades Class will help construct it). Phase 3 will be the expansion of additional raised beds, a composting facility and nature trails (7th grade Life Science students will lead this phase).
Shane Gough Vencil is an amazing woman. She loves the outdoors and doesn’t let anything get in the way of her enjoying it to the fullest. The first photo was taken with PFSWCD District staff and Cooperative Extension staff at a 4H Adult Volunteer Leaders Association Conference held on the Eastern Shore. This Conference was the beginning of a beautiful relationship and an eye opener for everyone involved as to the challenges that people with limited mobility face, especially when it comes to enjoying the great outdoors. Shane has carried her passion for the great outdoors to her special education classrooms. She advocates for her students and ensures that all conservation education programs and field trips for the middle school are designed so all students, regardless of their mobility or other challenges, can fully participate.
The Outdoor Classroom described in our previous narrative is just one example of Shane’s conservation education efforts. Shane has also played an active role in planning and participating in 6th Grade MWEE’s. She helps her students sift through leaf litter in search of macroinvertebrates, perform chemical water quality analyses, take a hike in the school yard to view erosion first hand and then do erosion experiments to better understand the impact that they, as individuals have on their watershed. In addition, Shane has helped with several of the District’s summer environmental camps. She always stands ready to lend a helping hand—especially if it gets her outdoors! Finally, we applaud Shane’s efforts to expand conservation education in Buckingham County classrooms by applying for and receiving a grant to provide teacher professional development training in Project WET, WILD and Learning Tree. Through Shane’s coordination last year, every teacher and administrator at Buckingham County Middle School was trained in these three programs after the grant funds were received.
Peter Francisco SWCD is pleased to nominate Shane Vencil as 2017 Conservation Education Teacher of the Year for all her efforts to incorporate conservation education at Buckingham County Middle School and ensure that all students, regardless of their physical, mental or emotional challenges, can fully participate in programs and field trips exploring the great outdoors.
Mrs. Vencil performing water quality monitoring
Students planting trees for Outdoor Classroom