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Koenen in 22nd year of teaching ag ed at Alden-Conger

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 04/11/2013 9:04 AM

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ALDEN, Minn. — The last thing Pam Koenen's parents wanted her to do was pursue a career in agriculture.

Koenen grew up on a Waverly farm in the 1980s, during the most recent farm crisis.

But her high school agricultural education teacher, Jack LaValla, encouraged her to pursue a degree in agricultural education. She went after that goal, taking a bunch of agriculture classes in her senior year in high school, participating in FFA and gaining admission to the University of Minnesota as an agricultural education major.

Her family's only connection to the U was a relative had a kidney transplant there. Their perception was that it was a big, scary place that was hard to get around.

Yet, Koenen persevered and earned her degree. She remained unsure if she would teach, though.

"I wasn't sold until I student taught," Koenen said.

Following graduation, she taught at Glenville for one year. She took a couple years off teaching to work for Moorman. She married and started her family and then came back to teaching part time at Alden in 1991. For the first few months, she taught half time and sold feed half time.

By 1995, the agricultural education program at Alden-Conger had grown to a full-time program, where it's remained since.

Koenen has a unique connection to Curt Stillwell, the man who started the agricultural education program at Alden-Conger. She grew up on the farm where Stillwell lived and he was a family friend. Her father and Stillwell shared a connection through Jersey cows.

Stillwell also started the agricultural education program at Lyle before teaching at Howard Lake and Fergus Falls.

Koenen said agricultural education gives her the ability to impact students in a way no other teacher can. Students know how to reach her after hours and in the summer.

"There's a lot of learning that takes place outside these four walls," she said.

Sometimes, it is isolating being the only agricultural education teacher within the building, Koenen said, but the state's agricultural education teachers have a strong network.

"It is hard kind of being the lone ranger," she said, but being the lone ranger also gives her the ability to shape the program to fit the community and its students.

She teaches introductory classes for junior high students, wildlife management and a careers class. She's in charge of the work study program. She also teaches an ITV course on large animal science, which she's done since 2001. This semester, she has six students in Houston. She has formerly taught ITV classes in Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton, LeSueur-Henderson, St. Clair and Granada-Huntley-East Chain.

She teaches 135 to 150 students per semester and the Alden-Conger FFA has 51 members.

Koenen has a full-time program, filling her summer with FFA farm visits and a summer program for students who aren't able to fit in agriculture classes during the traditional school year.

She's absent from school an average of three days per month, taking FFA members to competitions or filling her role as the district's Perkins coordinator. She's also on the FFA adult board.

Koenen also shares her skills in costumes, sets and props with the high school's drama department. She's the assistant director of the school's spring musical. Cinderella premieres in early March.