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Teacher of the Year in Agriculture
Tara Fastert, an agricultural teacher at Harrisburg, was named South Dakota’s Ag Educator of the Year. Finalists included Austin Bishop of Belle Fourche, S.D., and Renae Gebhart, Lemmon, S.D. (Photo SD FFA Foundation)

South Dakota Teacher Named Ag Educator Of The Year

BROOKINGS, S.D. –  As the need grows for more ag educators across the nation, the ag teachers who go above and beyond in educating America’s youth and future leaders are more important than ever. In South Dakota, eight exceptional ag teachers were recently named as finalists of the 2023-2024 Golden Owl Award® for their positive impact in the classroom and communities they serve. Of the finalists, Tara Fastert, an agricultural teacher at Harrisburg, S.D., was named South Dakota’s grand prize winner and 2023-2024 Ag Educator of the Year.

Nationwide, in partnership with the South Dakota FFA Foundation recognized Fastert as the Golden Owl Award grand prize winner during the South Dakota FFA State Convention. In addition to the title of South Dakota Ag Educator of the Year, Fastert will receive the coveted Golden Owl Award trophy and a $3,000 Nationwide-funded donation to further Harrisburg’s agricultural education efforts.

In her nomination, one of Ms. Fastert’s students shared, “She is an inspiration both inside and outside of the classroom, striving to push every student out of the box to help them grow throughout their high school career.  Most importantly, she lets their students fail and helps them see that failure isn’t final – but guides her students to learn through failures, and cares about each student that walks through the classroom door.”

Agricultural teachers in a group
Nationwide representative Darrin Hinze with finalists (back): Clayton Sorum, Tea Area, Brady Duxbury, Wessington Springs, Austin Bishop, Belle Fourche, Joshua Johnson, Brookings. (front): Fred Zenk, Webster, Tara Fastert, Harrisburg, Renae Gebhart, Lemmon, and Terry Rieckman, McCook Central.

Reflecting on her classroom leadership, Fastert shared, “You must give respect to get respect from students. I always treat students with respect; I am open and honest and treat them like adults. My classroom is also a safe space. My students know they can come to me for advice, and I will give them an honest answer. This is why students are in the ag department from 7 am until 4 pm (or later) every day. I am proud of the environment I have created, and happy students feel comfortable spending so much time here. Having students nominate me shows how much I mean to them and how much they care about me. They would not take the time to write such nice things if I was not making a difference in their lives.”

As the number one insurer of farms and ranches in the U.S.1, Nationwide established the Golden Owl Award with its state partners to shed light on the contributions of South Dakotas leading agricultural teachers and provide additional resources to support their programs.

“Nationwide is proud to recognize the dedicated teachers who are educating and inspiring students to pursue careers in agriculture,” said Brad Liggett, president of Agribusiness at Nationwide. “We’re honored to have the opportunity to appreciate their contributions, highlight the growing need for their services, and supply additional resources to help provide their students with optimal learning experiences.”

Nationwide supports the future of the ag community through meaningful sponsorships of national and local organizations. In conjunction with the Golden Owl Award, Nationwide is donating $5,000 to each participating state’s FFA, including the South Dakota FFA, to further support the personal and professional growth of students, teachers and advisors alike.

For more information, visit www.goldenowlaward.com.

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Regional committees in 10 different areas of Wyoming researched and scored over 50 nominations and sent the top picks to the WCHF State Board of Directors. The State Board also selected several nominees. (Courtesy WCHF)
Associate Professor and SDSU Extension Agronomist Chis Graham, far left, talks to a group of 2023 Field Day attendees at the West River Research Farm by Sturgis. (SDSU Extension photo)

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