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Lewiston-Altura ag ed program is good fit for Alden native

By Janet Kubat Willette

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

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LEWISTON, Minn. — If agricultural education students at Lewiston-Altura have a couple a-ha moments daily, it's a good day for teacher Ryan Steele.

Those moments come at any time and many ways — when a student conquers a fear of welding or excels in a judging competition, for example.

He pushes students to do their best, honing their strengths and working on their weaknesses. He meets the students at their level, steering them in the right direction.

Steele is in his 12th year of teaching at Lewiston-Altura Schools. He was one of five candidates who interviewed for the open position.

He's found a supportive community, filled with parents, administrators and fellow faculty who want the program to succeed and students who want to be involved.

He and group of students recently participated in the Iowa Beef Expo, where they judged against strong teams. Steele enjoys challenging students, taking them on several overnight trips to expose them to new experiences and to give them opportunities they may not otherwise have. He estimates they're gone 20 some days per year for FFA activities. The FFA spends 15 nights a year in hotel rooms. He has a great substitute teacher who fills in for him.

But FFA activities don't end with the school year.

"Our busiest time of year is summer usually," Steele said.

His goal is to meet with members to discuss their Supervised Agricultural Experiences twice a summer. The county fair is in early July where he visits FFA families, most of whom are in 4-H, and the state fair, where Lewiston-Altura FFA members participate in FFA shows.

Steele grew up in Alden and started his post-secondary education at Riverland in Austin. He considered careers in agronomy and animal science, but with some encouragement decided he'd most like to share his passion for agriculture with students through FFA and in the classroom.

He graduated from South Dakota State University and knew he wanted to teach in the southern half of Minnesota where he was more familiar with the type of agriculture practiced — corn, soybeans, hogs and beef cattle. He has had to learn more about the dairy industry, which is strong in Winona County.

Steele has a diverse list of course offerings, ranging from introduction to agriculture courses for junior high students to welding, small engines, animal and veterinary science, dairy science, landscaping design, farm business management, advanced welding and farm business management. He also supervises the ag seminar, or work release, program.

The schedule keeps him on his toes, as do the FFA teams he coaches. Lewiston-Altura has general livestock, dairy, dairy foods, fish and wildlife management, small animal, crops and ag sales teams. They also participate in Job Interview and Creed competitions.

There are 63 members in FFA this year and he has 110 unduplicated students in his classes. The number swells to 185 when duplicates are counted.

Several of his students will join family farm operations after graduation, but a growing number of students aren't from the farm. He teaches more agricultural literacy now than when he started, talking about how agriculture impacts consumers.

He's been at Lewiston-Altura long enough to see his graduates enter the workforce. He watches their progress.

Agriculture is constantly changing and he's constantly learning. There's no place for complacency in agricultural education.