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COLUMBUS - It's taken nearly 20 years, but Glenda Crook is glad to be back home in Columbus, where she's helping inject new life and enthusiasm into the Agriculture Education program.

After graduating with a degree in Agriculture Education, Crook had dreams of teaching at her alma mater.

"There was a more experienced teacher already leading the agriculture program at Columbus so I pursued positions in other districts to gain experience and to build my own agriculture program," Crook said. "I always kept an eye on Columbus being my hometown to see how the agriculture program developed and was maintained over the years."

Golden opportunity

After leading the Lodi ag program and FFA Chapter for 19 years, Crook heard through the grapevine that the Columbus Agriculture Education program had been dropped due to low enrollment numbers and the curriculum in need of updating.

Crook was soon invited to a meeting to discuss reviving the Ag program.

"I began to think, this is my chance to build a program again," Crook said. "The administration at Lodi determined that the Ag program was at full potential and there was no room for growth. Columbus would offer me the opportunity to not only continue to teach Agriculture Education but build a program in a community that is full of agricultural  businesses."

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Crook said that the community and high school students were very vested in bringing Agriculture Education back to Columbus. Community members contacted then Columbus School Board President Kevin White who organized an informational meeting for the community including area farmers to attend and collaborate on ideas of what they wanted for the Agriculture Education program in their city.

"The FFA officers were involved in the interview process and allowed to ask questions about their interest in an Agriculture Education program," Crook said. "The students realized how much they were missing out in the FFA and achieving some of their awards without an Agriculture Education program. They also learned that they were not exposed to all three aspects of Agriculture Education including the classroom, FFA and Supervised Agricultural Experiences or SAEs. The students want courses that are science equivalent and that provide hands-on learning."

Rebuilding

Crook says one of the most memorable events last year was when the school district's Ag Ed program received a Monsanto Grant for $25,000 during halftime at a football game.

"The community was present and the local farmers that nominated Columbus were able to attend and experience that," Crook said.

FFA members and Crook confirmed the community's faith in re-establishing the Agriculture Education program in the school district when the Columbus FFA Chapter was ranked among the Top Ten chapters in the state at the Wisconsin FFA Convention. Columbus FFA placed fourth for Growing Leaders and ranked tenth overall, Crook said.

"This was proof that (FFA members) had truly and miraculously made the Agriculture Education program and the FFA chapter one of the best quality programs in the state," Crook said.

Crook says the vitality and success of the newly resurrected Agriculture Education program is not only important to her and the students, but the agricultural industry as a whole.

"The FFA chapter members understand that the agriculture and farming is under scrutiny on a daily basis and they are working every day to help non-farm and non-FFA members understand its importance," Crook said.

Her FFA chapter officer team recognizes that in order to get other students to be active in FFA and to feel they can be engaged in agriculture, they needed to affiliate their FFA membership.

"This means that every student that takes an Agriculture Education class is put on the FFA roster and is an FFA member," Crook said. "This decision has proven to be very beneficial to the chapter and for achieving success in all activities.

"The officers understand that the more students they can get involved in their FFA activities, the more the students will understand how important agriculture is to our country," she added.

Career path change

Having a top-ranked and thriving agriculture program and FFA chapter is quite an accomplishment for an Agriculture Education teacher who was never afforded the opportunity to participate in FFA.

"Only boys were in FFA when I attended Columbus," Crook pointed out.

What's even more amazing is Crook, who helped develop and lead two successful Agriculture Education programs at Lodi and later Columbus, didn't even think of a career in agriculture while considering careers after graduation.

"I had planned to be an art major," she said.

The influence of a former agriculture teacher changed Crook's career path.

As a 4-H member, Crook had experience showing beef cattle raised from her family's farm. She subsequently joined the livestock judging team coached by former Columbus agriculture teacher Rudy VanFleet.

Fast forward 20-plus years as Crook recalls a special visitor who stopped by the high school soon after her start at Columbus.

"Rudy stopped in to tell me how excited he was that the program was back up and running and that I was here to teach and advise the FFA. He was so happy, he was in tears!" Crook recalled. "As they say it is a small world and I often stop and think how crazy it is that I am back here in my high school teaching agriculture education that was actually once taught by my mentor Rudy VanFleet!"

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