Instilling passion for ag in students is why Costello teaches

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Aaron Kilsdonk Vice President of the Wisconsin Association of Agricultural Educators presents Waupun Area Jr/Sr High School ag teacher Tari Costello with the Outstanding Agricultural Education Teacher Award.

Tari Costello may be small in stature, but her enthusiasm for agriculture education makes her a giant in the classroom and beyond.

The Waupun Area Jr/Sr High School ag educator was awarded the Outstanding Agricultural Education Teacher Award from the Wisconsin Association of Agricultural Educators (WAAE). This prestigious award was presented at the WAAE Professional Development Conference held in La Crosse, WI June 27-29, 2021.

The Outstanding Educator Award recognizes teachers who conduct the highest quality agricultural education programs. These individuals provide excellent classroom experiences, community and professional service and are lifelong learners.

Costello, who has earned many awards over her career as an educator, says this was an extremely humbling award to earn from her peers.

"As I stood on the stage when I was presented with the award, I remember feeling overwhelmed as I looked across the room filled with our state agriculture educators," she said. "These educators work so hard in their schools and communities for the students who wear the blue and gold jackets. They sacrifice so much and never stop motivating me to be a better teacher and person."

Costello grew up on a dairy farm in Alma in western Wisconsin. When she first started thinking about a career, she mentioned to her parents one night while milking that she was considering a career in the agriculture industry.

Her dad's response? She was a girl and should think about a different career path. 

Motivated to prove that women can be just as successful as their male counterparts, Costello headed off to the University of Wisconsin River Falls where she earned a degree in agriculture education in 1988. 

Waupun ag educator Tari Costello, left, stays up all night with students to watch a sow give birth to a litter of piglets. Costello has been teaching at Waupun Area Jr/Sr High School for over 24 years.

She began teaching at New Holstein High School, then worked for the Stewart-Peterson Group in West Bend for the AgEd Network for two years. She then landed a job teaching agriculture education in Waupun in 1997 and is still going strong 24 years later. Waupun has the second largest chapter in the state with 457 members.

Costello says she cannot imagine working in any other industry.

"I have had the opportunity to work with the most amazing young people who have become ag industry leaders. Having a front row seat to watching young people grow and mature in their lives and career is inspiring," she said. "I hope that I have provided my students with a deep appreciation of the agriculture industry, helped them develop their voices for advocacy and showed them that they are capable of achieving their goals."

As she nears the end of her teaching career, Costello just may explore other opportunities in the agriculture industry. And she has plenty to add to her resume.

Costello was a Kohl Fellowship recipient, Wisconsin High School Teacher of the Year and Agri-Science Teacher of the Year. Her program has been featured in Outdoor Wisconsin, the WAAE promotional videos, World Dairy Expo’s featured Chapter video, Culver’s Thank-A-Farmer program video and in the FFA New Horizon’s magazine.