By Morgan Anderson, OCJ FFA Reporter
Jeffrey Stimmell, the agricultural educator and FFA advisor of Big Walnut High School, was named this year’s Ohio Golden Owl Award winner at the 95th Ohio FFA Convention. The award is one of Ohio’s most prestigious honors in the realm of agricultural education.
Whether it be his student-driven motivation or his inclusive approach to the classroom, Stimmell’s students were quick to speak highly on his behalf. In fact, those who are fortunate to work with him know his approach to investing in students’ premier leadership, personal growth and career success remains unparalleled. Here are some thoughts from his students:
“I never thought I would have a place to fit in at school because sports were never my thing, but taking Mr. Stimmell’s class was the best decision I could have ever made.” — Lilly Cappitte, Big Walnut senior
“The way he teaches and makes every day a good day has inspired me to become an ag teacher. His dedication to the program and his students is something that I admire and I hope to be half the ag teacher he is in the future.” — Mallory Cline, Big Walnut senior
“I don’t know what I am going to do next year when I don’t see him every day, but I know he will continue to be rooting for me and pushing me to be my best self.” — Maddy Jones, Big Walnut graduate
Agricultural educators play an immense role in shaping students’ lives both in the classroom and beyond. As educators, their impact is felt in their communities as they dedicate countless hours and often their own resources to prepare students for success. Because of this, a group of professional agriculture organizations and businesses decided a few years ago that this impact deserved to be recognized in a big way.
Beginning in the 2018-19 school year, Nationwide, Ohio FFA, Ohio Farm Bureau, Farm Credit Mid-America, and AgCredit annually recognize 10 agricultural educators across the state of Ohio as Golden Owl Award Honorees. Of those 10, one is then selected to be Ohio’s Golden Owl Award winner and earns the title of the Ohio Agricultural Educator of the Year.
This year, the Golden Owl Award accumulated more than 500 nominations for the state’s top agricultural educators from local students, parents, fellow teachers and community members across the state. Of the impressive array of educators, Stimmell was named this year’s “Golden Owl,” but the award served more as reassurance to keep working hard than it did to call the job finished.
“For me, it shows that I have done some things in really non-traditional ways,” Stimmell said. “It means that what I’m doing is working and what I’m doing is giving students new opportunities.”
Stimmell is entering his tenth year of teaching, all of which, have been at Big Walnut High School. When asked about his calling to teach, he said it is all because of his students.
“I get the kids that don’t really fit in anywhere else,” Stimmell said. “But that’s what is really cool for me is giving the students that might not have another spot a place to connect and a place to belong.”
Stimmell said Big Walnut primarily brings a non-traditional group of students to his classroom, so he focuses largely on big-picture teaching coupled with his inclusive demeanor. Since starting, he has quadrupled the size of the FFA program as a single teacher, and for the next school year, he said has over 230 students registered for his classes.
His passion for education and investing in young people is time well spent, according to him.
“If the students are going to put in the time, I’m going to put in the time,” Stimmell said.
This investment has led to great returns, as Stimmell has won three back-to-back national FFA championship titles for the Food Science & Technology CDE and six-in-a-row state FFA championships. But Stimmell said moments like those are just a small glimpse into his proudest moments as an educator.
Stimmell was quick to place credit where it was due for those who have aided him in his journey as an educator. Former and current students, his “army of community volunteers,” Dr. Mary Kay Pohlschneider, Bernadette Arehart, Cheryl Durheim, Tina Zinn, Mona Lord and Alex Zimmer are just a few of those who have all helped make his achievements in the classroom possible.
The other nine honorees for this year’s award included Krysteena Lawrence (Elmwood), Jeffrey Karcher (Bellevue), Heather Tegtmeier (Northwestern), Donald Barnhart (Leipsic), Erynn Hayes (Trotwood-Madison), Judd Baker (Fairfield Union), Kayla Richter (Monroe Central), Kelly Rickabaugh (Greene County) and Katherine Dickson (Gallia Academy).
Each of those honorees earned their school’s agricultural education program $500 to be used toward classroom instruction and the Ohio Agricultural Educator of the Year earned $3,000.