Ag educator helps envision future for students

FFA drove her to teach. The University of Nebraska at Lincoln educated her further. She made her way to the small school district of Wayne in northeast Nebraska to teach high school students.

Why? Passion for agriculture.

Toni Rasmussen, an agricultural educator and FFA advisor at Wayne Junior-Senior High School, grew up on a farm near Albion, Nebraska, with two older brothers.

“My two older brothers still farm with my parents,” she said. “I help out as well.”

She had several teachers who inspired her to a career of teaching and was very involved in ag and FFA.

“I found my fit and so when I education became an opportunity, that’s when I decided to go for that,” Rasmussen said. “I was pretty involved in FFA as well and so really wanted to stick with that and didn’t quite want to let it go yet, so I chose ag ed.”

At Wayne, she’s charged with teaching the whole gamut of high school ag classes—intro to ag, food science, animal science, plant science, ag business, large animal management—and also teaches an eighth grade ag class.

“No matter what, they go through a diverse rotation,” Rasmussen said.

Of the 70-member group, there’s about 15 farm kids, and Rasmussen said that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“There’s more and more that are getting interested in just ag in general. Doesn’t necessarily have to be the farm,” she said. “And more of them are looking into that as a career, which is a win.”

At the end of October, the Wayne school district was part of a compact that was signed to help serve the education needs of youth and life-long learners in the northeast part of the state. According to a press release from Wayne State College, the purpose of the compact is to help contribute to workforce and talent development to support economic growth strategies in agriculture and natural resources, set forth by the framework established by the participants. The compact’s stated goals are to improve college and career readiness, educational attainment, and community and economic vitality and growth.

Seven education partners signed the Northeast Nebraska Agriculture and Natural Resources Education Compact on Oct. 29 at Wayne Junior-Senior High School. Partners include Wayne State College, University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, Little Priest Tribal College, Nebraska Indian Community College, Northeast Community College, Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, and Wayne Community Schools.

Rasmussen was at the compact signing and part of the process. She said since the agricultural program at Wayne is so new—started in 2017—they wanted their help.

“They wanted to kind of incorporate the ag teachers into developing curriculum and making more opportunities for students,” she said.

And exciting opportunities help get the ball rolling when it comes to FFA and 4-H level students. She hopes the added interest in agriculture and natural resources can push kids into ag as a career.

“The benefits, I think, that they get from it are or if they’re going into an ag career of course they have more background knowledge,” she said. “So when they go to college or when they go to training afterwards, or when they enter the workforce, they have more knowledge about that.”

This background knowledge could be based on formal and informal education that happens in the classroom or out of it.

“And the students that aren’t going into ag, they have a better understanding of where their food comes from,” Rasmussen said. “Which as we hear more and more about ag literacy and ag advocacy that becomes a really important piece of that.”

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It also helps the students become more informed consumers.

“So when they hear stuff on the news or through the media of some kind, they can look for a reliable source or look to someone, or know that that’s not correct or that is correct and why,” Rasmussen said.

Her passion shows through when it comes to recruiting more students into the ag program.

“It sounds pretty cliché, the opportunities really are endless,” she said. “There are going to be so many careers, and so many jobs that you will not even hear about but it’s time to graduate high school. By the time you get into the post college or even a few years down the road, new opportunities will come up, and so you can almost find absolutely any jobs you like in agriculture.”

She tells students there are jobs in agricultural communications, ag business, food safety or food science as well as the equipment side.

“There is absolutely an opportunity for every student,” she said. “The ag industry treats people great. We know that we’re all in this together that we all have theories and abundance of food as safely, efficiently. The ag industry does a good job of working with people together.”

Rasmussen wanted to reiterate the excitement around agriculture.

“We’ve always had it. I think a lot of people, including myself from time kept taking it for granted,” she said. “Just knowing that there’s back up there from university and from Northeast, and from all the colleges that were listed in that compact, it’s nice to know that it’s available, and it’s good opportunity.”

Kylene Scott can be reached at 620-227-1804 or [email protected].