LAKE CITY – Lake City Elementary School’s first grade teacher Jen Nichols was selected last week to receive the 2022 National Excellence in Teaching about Agriculture Award.
In March 2021, Nichols received the 2021 Educator of the Year award from the Michigan Farm Bureau. It is now recognized nationally.
“It’s really humbling to see the hard work pay off,” said Nichols, who has been with Lake City Schools for nine years.
“I think it’s just great for the school, the community and the city to have her name mentioned because we’re such a small community.”
Each year, the National Agriculture in the Classroom Organization and the US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and Farm Credit work together to honor teachers who incorporate agricultural concepts into their lesson plans.
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With so many applicants applying for the award, Nichols said she was surprised to hear she had won.
“I was just shocked because there are so many states,” Nichols said. “There were so many applicants who applied for it.”
“I was pretty excited,” added Tyler Hamilton, Principal of Lake City Elementary School. “I knew she would be a strong candidate for it. Her ability to connect with children by bringing in projects like her chickens that she raises.”
“She grew up here so knows the connection to farming that our community has. I think it connects really well with the community and our Conservation District and gives the students a chance to see what this beautiful place in northern Michigan has to offer.”
Nichols, who was born and raised in Lake City, said she became a substitute teacher at the school after leaving her business career to spend more time with her family. As she gained more experience, Nichols said she fell in love with teaching younger students.
“It was just a good opportunity to get a feel for it,” Nichols said.
After earning her master’s degree in elementary education from the University of Phoenix, Nichols became the first grade teacher at the school. As she continued her teaching career, Nichols said she began incorporating various farming activities into her lesson plan.
“So I started hatching chicks,” Nichols said. “That was the very first thing I did years ago. I just thought why not. It would be something fun for the kids.”
Since that project, Nichols said, she has taken her students to former Lake City Mayor Brad Seger’s maple sugar shack, to local Christmas tree farms, and to the Missaukee County Conservation District.
“I just think the kids need to see that the area that we live in is full of farming opportunities,” Nichols said. “I mean, I’ve never had a year where I didn’t have family living on a farm or doing some sort of farming, whether it’s Christmas trees, dairy cows, beef cows, chickens.”
Nichols said that given the relevance of agriculture to the area, it’s important to give her students hands-on experience with different aspects of the subject.
“I think whenever you can take them somewhere or bring something into the classroom or give them hands-on experience, they definitely remember it,” Nichols said. “It takes more just reading from a textbook and brings it into the real world for them.”
Nichols is expected to accept her award at the 2022 National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference in New York in June. She will be one of seven teachers selected to receive the award.
“I’m really looking forward to going to New York to accept this award, just to get some new ideas to bring with me for the next year and years to come,” said Nichols. “And it’s just nice to be surrounded by other teachers who are passionate about the same things.”