Freedom High School, Freedom, Wis.2015 Region 3 Outstanding Agricultural Education Teacher Award Winner
There are a lot of ways you could tell the story of Paul Larson, agriculture teacher at Freedom High School in Freedom, Wisconsin. You could start with how, when Larson came to Freedom 29 years ago, the program was on the verge of extinction. Knowing that makes it even more impressive that today Larson's agricultural education program reaches 200 students each year, and has the most advanced high school aquaculture facility in the state.
You could talk about how Larson has been a teacher leader, volunteering countless hours and serving on the board of the Wisconsin Association of Agricultural Educators, as well as with NAAE.
You could point out how he is constantly pushing himself to become an even better teacher. Two years ago Larson was selected as a NAAE National Agriscience Teacher Ambassador, a highly competitive professional development for which he had to submit an extensive application and commit to hours of training above and beyond his regular responsibilities.
All of these things and more are the reasons why Larson was selected as the 2015 Outstanding Agriculture Teacher for Region 3, but what is really interesting is what he's done since receiving the award in New Orleans two months ago.
"Well, I really started when I won the state level," said Larson. He not only sent a release about his award to his local paper, but to the larger regional paper that covers hs area. "They actually put it in, which was great," he said. "Then, when I won nationals, I didn't think they'd do anything, because they'd already done something about it earlier. So I pointed out our program's strong community connection and alumni support."
It worked, because a reporter from the Appleton Post-Crescent visited Larson's program and did a full story, which ended up on the front page of the paper. With a regular readership of about 162,200 people, according to the paper's website, that's a lot of recognition for the Freedom High School agricultural education program.
Even better, because that regional paper is part of the USA Today newspaper network, a blurb about Larson's award appeared in USA Today, which has an average weekday print circulation well over 1.5 million copies.
"Getting recognition like that immediately draws the attention of your administration," said Larson. "Someone notices that something is going on. With the constant change in administration that happens at a lot of schools, it's important to be validated in that way."
Larson went on to point out that you don't have to with a national award draw attention, either. "It could be state level, or your section - you can spin it any way you want," he said. "The point is, you can use whatever recognition you get. Even if you're just nominated for an award, you can still say 'Hey, my peers think I was good enough to be nominated, so something's going on here.'"
As great as the coverage from the Outstanding Teacher award has been, Larson sees it as a piece of a bigger picture.
"It's all about relationships," he said. "Working with alumni - don't be afraid to ask for help. When people come help you train a judging team, or work with your students on something else, they'll talk to other people, and they'll be your advocate as well. That gives more credence than anything."
Larson and his students also do an annual report that they present to his school board, usually right after they return from National FFA Convention. It also is ready to pull out whenever there is an opportunity to advocate for his program. He has shared his report with NAAE, and welcomes any ag teacher to use it to create their own. You can see that example here, as well as another, more state-focused advocacy piece Larson created here.
Paul Larson's Tips for Building Recognition for Your Ag Program
- Be visible - could be as simple as going to the local restaurant for lunch, or visiting the local feed store. Let people know you're there and what you're up to.
- Anytime you can be involved in community service with your students, do it.
- Don't be afraid to do something with a group you haven't partnered with before. It can be a great way to find new supporters.
- Aim to have an article in your local paper each time it comes out to let people know what's happening with your program.
- Don't overlook things like articles in your school newsletter or school announcements.
- Your students can write and submit articles, all you have to do is review them.
Read about Paul Larson and the agriculture program at Freedom High School in the Appleton Post-Crescent
The NAAE Outstanding Teacher award is sponsored by Caterpillar and Tractor Supply Company as a special project of the National FFA Foundation. For more information about NAAE awards, visit http://www.naae.org/resources/awards/index.cfm