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Ag teacher earns Iowa education honors

By Staff | Jan 14, 2011

Jerry Cooper’s passion for teaching has earned him a 2010 runner-up honors for Teacher of the Year in Iowa. Cooper is an ag instructor and FFA adviser at Nevada high School.

By DAVE DEVALOIS

Farm News staff writer

NEVADA – Kevin Cooper believes that when you have a job that you enjoy, you don’t mind putting in extra time, effort and commitment.

Nowhere is that commitment more evident than in the halls of Nevada High School, where Cooper teaches agriculture and natural resources and is advisor to the 110 members of the Nevada FFA chapter.

Cooper was named runner-up in Iowa for the 2010 Excellence in Education Award from the Iowa State Education Association. He was among a field of 50 teachers nominated by colleagues, students, parents and community members for the award because of the difference they make every day in the lives of students.

Katelyn Pringnitz

Cooper has taught for 28 years – 23 of them at Nevada.

“This award is truly about recognizing the educators who work hard on a daily basis and rarely get the recognition they so richly deserve,” said Chris Bern, president of the ISEA. “All of the nominations are a testament to the dedication and compassion Iowa educators have for their students and all of them demonstrated how Iowa’s educators go above and beyond the scope of their work to change the lives of the students they teach.

“It has been described that (Cooper’s) enthusiasm is infectious, spreading into a giant grin that leaves the students wanting more. I can’t think of a better way to teach than to leave students wanting more.”

Katelyn Pringnitz, a Nevada senior and vice-president of the FFA chapter, said Cooper’s passion for his classes helps attract more students. “He’s one of the most outgoing people I know. He goes out of his way to welcome you,” she said.

Justin Gross, principal of Nevada High School, said Cooper’s commitment to the students of Nevada goes well beyond the students he teaches directly in his classroom.

Kyle Henry

“He is committed to our kids 100 percent and not just in the classroom. He really lives and breathes our school,” said Gross said.

When a sports team qualified for a playoff game, Cooper was the first to volunteer to drive a pep bus, Gross said.

Kyle Henry, a Nevada senior and president of the FFA chapter, also admires Cooper’s dedication to his students.

“You are hard pressed to find a time when he’s not available for you,” he said. Henry recalls many times when Cooper is still working on a project at the school until 10 p.m. or even later.

Among the 110 students who participate in FFA are many who have not expressed an interest in either farming or a career in agriculture. However, Cooper recruits students to the FFA chapter so they can gain experiences and skills in whatever career path they choose.

“FFA has such a multitude of high-quality structured activities that help a young person develop confidence and skills,” he said. Those include skills in public speaking and presentation, research and organization – such as the proper way to conduct a public meeting.

“I have a few students that go back into farming, but a lot of my students are going to find careers in the supporting areas,” he said.

Cooper, who farms about 200 acres, also teaches an agriculture mechanics class that gives students hands-on experience in diagnosing and repair of agriculture equipment. Students work directly on tractors and other implement in a 3,000-square-foot building adjacent to the high school that previously housed a Nevada business.

Most of the tractors and equipment are donated to FFA and students often use the restored implement as a project for the Story County Fair. After the fair, the tractors are sold and the proceeds go to the FFA chapter.

Several graduates of the Nevada agriculture mechanics program have enrolled at a community college in Iowa that trains students specifically for John Deere equipment, graduated, and been hired at John Deere dealers throughout Iowa.

“The big thing we are after is development of competencies regarding diagnosis and repair,” he said.

The agriculture mechanics class, in particular, requires many long summer nights to complete a restoration project in time for the fair. Cooper said teaching is a passion to him, so he doesn’t keep track of the time he invests beyond the normal school day.

“You have to have passion for whatever you’re doing,” he said “(Teaching) is so enjoyable. We help shape these young people for the future.”

Contact Dave DeValois at dwdevalois@yahoo.com.

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