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Nipomo High School ag teacher wins state education award 

When COVID-19 forced schools to close in March, Rosemary Cummings and her Nipomo High School agriculture students missed out on the most exciting time of their year.

Usually on weekends between March and May, Cummings and 50 or more students travel to compete on college campuses across the state as part of the Future Farmers of America (FFA) program.

FFA competitions bring California's agricultural education community together and provide students a platform to demonstrate skills in livestock evaluation, milk and dairy grading, veterinary science, horticulture, and other technical areas.

click to enlarge AG EDUCATION Nipomo High School teacher Rosemary Cummings recently earned national recognition for her work in agricultural education at this year's California FFA State Conference. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SLO COUNTY FARM BUREAU
  • Photo Courtesy Of The SLO County Farm Bureau
  • AG EDUCATION Nipomo High School teacher Rosemary Cummings recently earned national recognition for her work in agricultural education at this year's California FFA State Conference.

"Every weekend, from March to the first weekend in May, we're on the road taking these students to these universities," said Cummings, who's taught at Nipomo High School since 2009. "We have so many different events. ... It really gives them an opportunity to look at these universities, network with other students, and get them out of Nipomo."

In 2017, Nipomo's livestock evaluation team won the FFA state championship and finished second in the country, which qualified the team to participate in an international competition in Scotland.

"That was amazing to be able to take students internationally," Cummings said. "The reward to see these kids' faces when they get to go to all these places is probably one of the highlights my career."

Cummings' dedication and excellence as a teacher recently earned national recognition. At this year's California FFA State Conference in June, Cummings received the Nationwide Golden Owl Award, which goes to the top agriculture educator in the state. She's the first California teacher to win the grand prize, which comes with a $3,000 check to "help further future educational efforts," according to a Nationwide press release.

"Agriculture teachers play such a critical role in preparing the next generation of industry leaders," said Brad Liggett, president of agribusiness at Nationwide, an insurer of farms and ranches. "We're honored to be able to recognize the above-and-beyond efforts of teachers across the country."

Cummings called the recent honor "humbling" and "validating." She credited her fellow teachers and students for the program's success.

"It's a team effort," she said. "[The award] really validates all the hard work that all teachers do, and specifically ag teachers, because we do so much work outside of the classroom."

While COVID-19 canceled this year's FFA competitions, Cummings said she wanted her students to still have a chance to show off their skills. In June, Nipomo hosted its own community fair where students socially distanced and events were livestreamed to parents watching at home.

"Because our students missed out on going to all these field days, we decided to host our own fair," Cummings explained. "It was logistically a challenge because we couldn't have more than 10 kids at a time and there were no parents. We had it separated into three days."

Cummings was born in Santa Maria as a daughter of two Portuguese immigrant farm laborers. She said that her upbringing gave her a deep respect and appreciation for agriculture that she's tried to instill in her students since she started teaching at SLO High School in 1995.

"Ironically, the majority of our students don't come from the ag industry and have little to no knowledge of agriculture," she said. "That's the exciting thing—opening their eyes to the opportunities out there, that they can be involved in a critical industry in our society."

Correction: This article was corrected to state that the Nationwide Golden Owl Award is a state prize.

Fast fact

San Luis Obispo County is asking for public input on a draft of its 2020-28 Housing Element through Aug. 12. Updated every eight years, the county housing element guides planning, development, and funding related to housing. "The unincorporated county setting is dynamic, and the demand for housing continues to increase," the county website reads. "The housing element update process allows the public, stakeholders, developers, decision-makers, and staff to work together to develop a framework that achieves this purpose." The county is holding a question-and-answer session via Zoom on July 23 from 5 to 7 p.m. For more information and to register for the Zoom forum, visit the county's website, Δ

Assistant Editor Peter Johnson wrote this week's Strokes and Plugs. Send tidbits to

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