Trent Van Leuven, agricultural educator at Mackay High School in Mackay, Idaho, is one of six individuals nationwide who received the National Agriscience Teacher of the Year Award. The award was presented December 1 at the 2016 National Association of Agricultural Educators annual convention in Las Vegas.

This award recognizes teachers who have inspired and enlightened their students through engaging and interactive lessons in the science of agriculture.

Van Leuven knows that to make his classroom successful, he needs to either bring the world of agriculture to his class or bring his class to the world of agriculture. Science, including agricultural science, requires that learning be built on observation and application. His students learn through dissections, lab work and experience in greenhouse, aquaculture and shop facilities. They also board the FFA tour bus and take field trips to farms and businesses in the community.

One of Van Leuven’s biggest goals is to keep learning material relevant to his students. He actively seeks out resources to improve educational opportunities for his students and use them in different forms of instruction. He sought help from a local butcher and ranchers to donate artificial insemination equipment and 10 different animal reproductive tracts for students to use when learning about reproduction. Some students took the exam to receive a license to practice artificial insemination in Idaho.

Van Leuven is not afraid to take advantage of learning opportunities as they arise. In the animal husbandry program, students care for lambs and small livestock on the school farm. If health problems come up, he turns the situation into an exploratory project for students to observe the animal and research the best options to nurse it back to health.

Van Leuven shares his lesson plans with many other agriculture teachers in Idaho, particularly record keeping within agriscience classrooms. Nearly 2,000 students have benefited from his curriculum each year. Under permission and advice from the U.S. Forest Service, he has students managing a hydroponic greenhouse and has 15 students who raise several types of fish in an aquaculture lab and release them into nearby steams that previously did not have fish.

“[Van Leuven] takes student learning to a new level. He has developed relevant and rigorous lesson plans that almost always have an engaging lab activity to go with them. In the five years we worked together, I witnessed his students getting motivated to learn some of the most mundane subjects or topics through his inquisitive approach to make it important to each kid that day. Dissections, models, guest speakers, field trips, or whatever it would take to open the student’s eyes and minds were never an obstacle for [Van Leuven]. His teaching style is a testament to the fact that students learn by doing,” said Shane Stevenson, former colleague and currently a teacher at Rocky Mountain High School.

Each of the six National Agriscience Teacher of the Year Award winners was recognized at the NAAE convention in Las Vegas. The National Agriscience Teacher of the Year Award is sponsored by by Herman & Bobbie Wilson as a special project of the National FFA Foundation.