Fleenor named conservation educator of the year

Published 4:02 pm Saturday, October 30, 2021

The Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts awarded Josh Fleenor, Agriculture teacher at Cumberland County High School, as the 2021 Conservation Education Teacher of the Year for the Secondary Level (Grades 6-12).

Fleenor’s agriculture classes focus on promoting leadership and developing workplace readiness skills. Even though his program is in the developmental stages with a heavy focus on animal and horticulture production agriculture, all of what he teaches shares a common goal in promoting environmental stewardship and best management practices to promote agriculture. It’s through mindful stewardship and management of the natural resources utilized in agriculture practices that agriculturalists can make the most impact. This balance is essential not just for the environment but also in profitability and consumer safety.

His program is a safe place where students can express themselves while becoming more educated consumers. He understands that not every student will work in agriculture, but he hopes that they will understand that even as a consumer, they are directly part of the agricultural industry. His students built a chicken coop over Christmas break with donated materials. Eggs were collected daily. Some of the eggs were prepared and consumed in class. Eggs were given to faculty and staff, and many of them were donated to the food pantry to be distributed to community members. The flock is used as a means for students who have interest in completing a school-based, worth-based learning project on managing their own chicken flock to develop entrepreneurial skills.

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Not all of his students are members of the Future Farmers of America (FFA), but as FFA Advisor, Fleenor involves FFA members as well as non-members who are in agricultural education in FFA activities. His students competed in the FFA forestry judging contest, state tractor driving contest, state ag mechanics contest and state middle school contest. They had two livestock judging teams compete at the Block and Bridle livestock judging competition through Virginia Tech, and they had the Grand Champion dairy steer at the Piedmont Junior Area Livestock Show. They sold plants, conducted a wreath-making workshop, sold fruit and began greenhouse vegetable production to raise funds and engage in the community. The Cumberland County High School Chapter received the gold state superior chapter award. They had a one American degree recipient (the highest degree an FFA member can receive) and a state degree recipient at this year’s FFA State Convention, as well as a Young Farmers discussion meet state finalist.

Fleenor served as coach of the high school’s Envirothon Team. The Envirothon is the largest high school environmental competition with teams from all over the U.S., Canada and China. The team took second place at the Area V competition and went on to compete at the state level. One of the team members has taken her experiences from agriculture classes, FFA activities and Envirothon and completely changed her plan of education to include environment/natural resources as her field of focus. This student also participated in Youth Conservation Camp and Chesapeake Bay Foundation student experiences over the summer.

There are four cornerstone principles that Fleenor works with, which also happen to be the principles of Life Push LLC, the mentoring group he is a part of:

• He operates in excellence, not perfection

• He understands perspectives drive outcomes daily and works accordingly

• A person’s true purpose fulfilled is worth it

• He believes success is a perspective away

Each day, Fleenor strives to apply this ideology through his work with his students. He is all about “changing lives,” whether it be in the classroom or outside the classroom. His goal is to help his students find their true purpose whether it be through Envirothon, FFA, showing animals, teaching workplace readiness skills or just giving them the nudge they need to step out of their comfort zone. As Fleenor put it, “Helping others shine a light on their God-given talents is an honor in and of itself.”

Fleenor raises Simmental and Angus Cross cattle with his wife and three children and enjoys all that farm life has to offer. He also enjoys drawing and painting, music, running, hiking, riding horses and reading non-fiction. He knows he “would not be where he is today without the blessings of a firm foundation in his family — they certainly tolerate my busyness.”

The Peter Francisco Soil and Water Conservation District was pleased to nominate Fleenor and very pleased that the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts bestowed this honor on him.