ASHE COUNTY — This past year, an Ashe County educator earned the honored title of Kenan Fellow. Now, she hopes to not only apply her hands-on experience to the classroom, but to help promote agriculture as a top-notch career choice to her students.
In April 2020 Barbra Heufel, a third grade teacher at Ashe County’s Mountain View Elementary School, received word that she was selected as one of only 19 teachers from across the state to be a Kenan Fellow.
Since 2000 the Kenan Fellowship — an initiative of the Kenan Institute for Engineering, Technology & Science at North Carolina State University — has helped addresses the need for high-quality professional development for educators in North Carolina.
Heufel’s selection, which was made possible through a partnership between the Kenan Fellowship, North Carolina Farm Bureau, the Ashe County Farm Bureau and the Alleghany County Farm Bureau has taken Heufel on a crash course into the state’s bustling Christmas Tree industry — an experience she says she was honored to be a part of.
“Ashe County is the largest Christmas tree producing county in the United States and North Carolina is the second largest state for Christmas Tree production,” Heufel said. “It’s just a really big honor to be in that role as a leader for educators and as a leader for our community; to encourage our students and show them that this is a great career opportunity that we’re missing.”
During the yearlong program, Heufel was given invaluable in-the-field training by farmers and other mentors that took on a journey to different Christmas Tree farms across the state. She also participated in an additional 80 hours of professional development courses focused on project-based learning, digital learning and leadership.
The program included elements of everything from insights into family farming culture to math and science. As well as conversations about diversity and race.
Heufel used her experience working with North Carolina farmers to create content for Christmas Tree Ag Mag, a magazine that teachers can use as a classroom resource. The magazine is currently in print and can be found digitally at www.ncfb.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/FINAL-ag-mag-christmas-tree-WEB.pdf.
“It was really exciting to get all the pieces and put it all in a resource that can be used to get kids excited about agriculture,” Heufel said.
With her family coming from a manufacturing background, Heufel noted that prior to her internship that she had no previous farming experience. The in-depth instruction received during her internship, however, has motivated her to promote the industry as a prime career decision.
“I got so excited that I couldn’t stop telling people everything I was learning. So, now I have those opportunities to share and to help other instructors and educators understand how we can promote agriculture to our students,” said Heufel. “We talk about college and career ready, well this is definitely a career that kids should look into for sure. It’s family based, it’s our culture and a lot of them do have that farming background but I think that sometimes we as educators seem to be pushing college.”
Now that her program is complete, Heufel will forever hold the title of Kenan Fellow. According to the Kenan Fellows Program website their are currently only 493 Kenan Fellows working across the state to improve STEM education in North Carolina.
For more information about the Kenan Fellows Program visit kenanfellows.org/.