Deb Stevens may be a horticulture and landscape design teacher, but her job is not really about growing plants, she says. It’s about growing people.
“I love my content and am passionate about it, but to help kids find that special brilliance inside of them,” Stevens says, “that’s the best part of my job.” In her 20 years as an ag teacher and FFA advisor at Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center in Newport, N.H., she’s helped more than 2,000 students, “emerge and see how they can make a difference in the world.”
One of those students was CJ Howe, a once-reserved high school freshman who finished 2019 as a national officer candidate. Because of Stevens’ influence, CJ’s mom nominated the teacher to be recognized on ABC’s Strahan, Sara and Keke talk show, where Stevens was surprised with a $5,000 check and $5,000 worth of cereal to further her community impact.
She has donated a portion of the cereal to a local backpack program, which provides take-home meals for food-insecure students each weekend, and that’s only a snippet of her community involvement. Stevens and her students currently grow plants for a community garden and landscape the downtown area. They also plant seeds that are later transferred to the local correctional facility, where residents tend the garden, harvest and donate the produce to the local food pantry.
Her students have also created shoebox lesson plans to help teach elementary school children how they can impact the world of agriculture. Using seeds received postseason from a local store, Stevens’ students put all the planting materials inside a shoebox, deliver the boxes to local teachers, and help instruct kids how to grow a plant. “It’s all about taking a resource you’ve been given and spreading the wealth,” Stevens says.
“It’s really important that students learn to give back instead of just asking, ‘What can you do for me?’ ” she says. “Kids need to see how they connect to their local community, and that’s a win-win, because they see where they fit, and people see what students can really do.”
Stevens says FFA plays a big role in that selflessness, too. “I’ve grown so much as a professional in this organization,” says Stevens, who is the only teacher from New Hampshire to become an agriscience ambassador and is applying to be a teacher ambassador. “It doesn’t end with the kids. I’ve seen the opportunities firsthand, and that’s why I promote it.
“FFA connects to all areas of life,” she says. “If you eat and you’re breathing, you’re connected to agriculture.”
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