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Agriculture teacher Todd Rightmire mentors students, and fellow instructors

Apr 11th, 2013 | Category: Community

Plans for new high school project include small farm cooperative

by Brent Cole

Mount Baker High School’s Todd Rightmire, one of a handful of agriculture teachers in Whatcom County, is known for his work in and out of the classroom. Adjusting to changing demands within the school system, Rightmire teaches students about the scientific aspects of agriculture while also mentoring teachers across the state on how best to teach agriculture according to standard testing. This mentoring is the reason he received a Teacher Mentor Award (western region) from the National Association of Agriculture Educators last November.

For Rightmire, teaching agriculture is in his blood. Raised in Ferndale, his father was an agriculture teacher for 30 years, and his grandfather was a veterinarian in Bellingham. After graduating from Ferndale High School, Rightmire received a degree in agriculture education from Washington State University. He spent a year student teaching and took his first job at Mount Baker High School in 1993.

Todd Rightmire. PHOTO BY KELLY MAKARAVAGE

Currently, Rightmire teaches four classes, including Advanced Animal Biology and Advanced Natural Resources. Both the animal biology and natural resources classes are science classes and geared towards fulfilling science requirements for students. Animal biology includes feed,  analysis and genetic research projects. The natural resources curriculum includes class-management of the 100 acres of school forestland. In the spring, the class shifts to fisheries and water shed issues. The natural resources class is performing water testing and managing a steelhead pond.

Over the years, the curriculum has changed dramatically, Rightmire said. “When I started here, it was a lot more production ag,” he stated. Then the WASL began to include science in 2003, the program shifted to include more science and less work with animals. “You either adapt or you get shut down,” Rightmire said, adding, “Here at Mount Baker, we’ve been proactive. It’s part of the reason I got the award. A lot of other teachers seek our help – how we do things here. We have a quality program and meet standards and kids seem to do well.”

Though the program has shifted towards science, students are still active in the FFA program. Rightmire estimated between 20-25 percent of those students raise an animal at home. Those students will participate in the Puget Sound Junior Livestock show in June as well as the Northwest Washington Fair in August. (Rightmire has served as the FFA Superintendent at the Northwest Washington Fair for the past 18 years.)

“Todd is looked upon as an educated leader amongst his peers and teaching professionals,” said Rhonda Juergens, agriscience instructor at Nooksack Valley High School, through a press release. “With his passion for agriculture and teaching students, he is truly one of the elite teachers and mentors in the nation. He sets an example of what all teachers should strive for in agricultural education.”

Receiving the mentor award held special significance for Rightmire, since the man who created the award years ago, Gordy Davis, was a friend of his father’s (the two had been roommates their final year at Washington State University). After Rightmire’s father passed in 2000, Davis wanted to honor him by starting an award for agriculture teachers who mentor other instructors.

According to Rightmire, Davis – who had nothing to do with the selection process – said he about fell down when he learned Rightmire had won the award. “Gordy went on about my mom and dad and was pretty choked up about it,” said Rightmire, about the awards ceremony. “‘The best thing about this,’ Davis said at the banquet, ‘is that this year’s recipient is his son.’”

Rightmire added, “I kept it together, he didn’t.”

As the buzz of the award has died down, Rightmire is on to new projects at Mount Baker, one of which includes building a new barn. Once complete, Rightmire hopes by the end of the calendar year, he plans on starting a small farm cooperative. “We get these kids into more the roots of agriculture and production ag. It’s not as a class, but on the side.”

The project would start with poultry, keeping chickens and selling the eggs. Rightmire is no stranger to helping with projects, as he has assisted many Whatcom County students with senior projects, involving forestry, swine production, artificial insemination, raising hogs and more.

“The kids get business exposure and invest in their food. They see how it works. If I can guarantee that they’re not going to lose money, that will be a big selling point.”

In addition, this year an agricultural science class started at the junior high, taught by Tamara Whitcomb, who works with Rightmire. She also teaches ornamental horticulture, floral design and environmental biology at the high school. The junior high class has a nine-week course that examines where food comes from as well as other curriculum.

Published in the April 2013 issue of Grow Northwest

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