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Ag teacher knew path at early age

Staff writer

Hillsboro High School agriculture teacher Sonya Roberts knew at an early age she wanted to be an agriculture teacher, but the roots of her decision go even further back.

She was born in Kingman, where her father was an agriculture teacher. After the death of her grandfather, Roberts’ family moved to her grandfather’s farm near Garden City.

Her family raised sheep, and she and her siblings were involved in 4-H. Roberts enrolled in vocational agriculture and participated in FFA as a freshman.

“My agriculture teacher was a hard-working man,” she said. “I remember him making visits to our farm to look at our projects and him pushing his students to their full potential.”

He left after her sophomore year because of a family illness, and Roberts’ father became the school’s agriculture teacher.

“I knew after my freshman year, I wanted to be an agriculture teacher,” Roberts said. “Agriculture was in my blood, and I wanted to give back what I had gained throughout high school.”

She attended Seward County Community College and transferred to Kansas State University. She received a bachelor’s degree in agriculture education and a master’s degree in education.

Her teaching career began at Cimarron High School, where she worked nine years.

“I still remember the phone call from the superintendent there that hired me,” Roberts said. “He could not believe he was hiring a female ag teacher after having a man teaching ag for 40 years.”

Nineteen years later, she is the longest-tenured female agriculture teacher in Kansas.

She moved to Peabody and taught at Peabody-Burns High School five years before taking the job at HHS, where she has taught five years.

While teaching at PBHS, she and her husband, Rickey, bought a farm near Hillsboro. She continued to commute to PBHS until the job at HHS was available.

“I was tired of windshield time, and I had moved my children to the Hillsboro district,” Roberts said. “When the job opened here, my children asked me to apply so we could all be in the same district.”

She has three children: sophomore Bryce, seventh-grader SaRae, and second-grader Landon.

Hands-on lessons help

In a recent horticulture class, Roberts was reviewing plant parts with students.

She showed actual plant stems and had students label the parts to drive home important points. Several times during the demonstration, students could be heard exclaiming, “oh” when they understood.

Roberts’ experience has shown that such hands-on lessons work well for a broad range of students.

“We all have different learning styles, and it is important that we teach to visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners,” she said. “Personally, I am a visual learner, and that is why I teach what I do.

“My classroom is very hands-on instruction. We may go through a PowerPoint presentation, but it is followed up with hands-on activities.”

Those activities can include dissecting cats or flowers, drawing diagrams of objects, identifying parts of leaves, or making a saw-horse model of the skeletal and digestive tract of an animal, she said.

Agriculture education is important to all students, not just those who wish to become farmers, Roberts said.

“It is important for students to know about the industry that keeps them fed and clothed,” she said. “We in America don’t know what it’s like to be without food. We can always find a soup kitchen or food pantry. It’s not like that in other countries.”

Roberts is enthusiastic and a hard worker, Principal Max Heinrichs said.

“She’s a great role model that way,” he said. “She’s just a good person to be around, and it rubs off.”

Last modified Oct. 21, 2010

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