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MFB Names Countryside Teacher Educator of the Year

Published: Friday, April 3, 2020

During National Agriculture Week, March 22-28, Michigan Farm Bureau announced Steve Rigoni of Countryside Academy in Benton Harbor as its educator of the year. The award will be formally presented at MFB's 101st State Annual Meeting in December.

The Educator of the Year will receive a scholarship to attend the National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference as well as a $500 classroom grant from the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture sponsored by Agroliquid.

Rigoni brings his previous agricultural work experience into his high school classroom at Countryside Academy. Having grown up on a farm and worked in agribusiness for many years, he shares his experiences raising cherries, peaches, grapes, asparagus and other commodities with his students daily.

His diverse lineup of agricultural courses include botany, zoology and fundamentals of agriculture while also incorporating food science, natural resources and wildlife management concepts.

With student learning at the forefront of his mind, Rigoni designed the school's educational barn, structuring the pens, water systems, lighting, temperature controls and storage to handle many livestock species throughout the school year. Here, students can engage in animal care and handling, from birth through exhibiting at the Berrien County Fair, as a portion of their agriculture courses.

For students interested in plant science, Rigoni leads students through propagating flower and vegetable plants from seed. Eventually, students take these plants home to raise food for their families.

"Mr. Rigoni is a teacher, mentor, adviser and role model for his students," wrote his nominator, Ed Kretchman, Berrien County Farm Bureau president. "When his students began building animal pens, it was obvious most students had never used construction tools. With his patient instruction, they finished one shelter and started another. Mr. Rigoni has a kind, thoughtful mentoring style that can draw the best out of his students."

Through Rigoni's leadership, his students' learning has extended beyond their in-class experiences. The students have assisted with Farmer for a Day and Garden of Education programs at the Berrien County Fair.

High school students partnered with third- through fifth-grade students to raise and release pheasants on a wildlife land plot designed to provide food and shelter for the birds. Students even took learning out of this world by participating in the Growing Beyond Earth Challenge, a partnership with NASA, experimenting with plants that could grow quickly and effectively to furnish the International Space Station astronauts with nutrient-rich food.

MFB's Educator of the Year award recognizes teachers who excel at integrating agriculture and natural resource concepts into school curricula and who challenge students to develop critical thinking skills through the analysis of agricultural issues and information. Teachers are nominated annually by county Farm Bureaus for this award.

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