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April 19, 2017

10 questions with county “Teacher of the Year”

Photo/Cassandra Brown
Kim Matthias works with about 120 students each day at Cedar Lee Middle School in Bealeton.
I think it’s the most important subject there is. Without agriculture, we would be naked and hungry.
Kim Matthias
• Age: 48

• Home: Culpeper

• Work: Agriculture teacher Cedar Lee Middle School, 2013 to present; agriculture teacher, Liberty High School, 1999 to 2013; horticulture teacher, Durant High School, Fla., 1995-98; agriculture teacher, Webb Middle School, Fla., 1993-95; agriculture and horticulture teacher, Frostproof Junior/Senior High School, Fla., 1990-92.

• Education: Master’s degree, educational leadership, Shenandoah University, 2002; bachelor’s degree, agricultural extension and education, University of Florida, 1990; Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Tifton, Ga., 1987-88; Forest High School, Ocala, Fla., 1986.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
The 26-year veteran agriculture instructor has earned Fauquier County Public Schools’ “Teacher of the Year” award.

The county’ only full-time middle school agriculture teacher, Kim Matthias works with more than 400 students each year at Cedar Lee Middle School in Bealeton.

Sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders learn about plants, animal care, science, woodwork and other topics in her classes. She also teaches communication and leadership skills.

The number of students who want to take agriculture at Cedar Lee “has gone up considerably,” Ms. Matthias said. Each of her classes has been at or near capacity since she started teaching there in 2013.

Taylor and Marshall middle schools have part-time agriculture teachers, but Warrenton and Auburn do not offer the elective courses.

“I wish all the middle schools had this program, because I think it’s vital,” Ms. Matthias said. “Everyone is going to be a homeowner or rent a place. They need to know about soil, landscaping, be able to identify different tools, wood and plants.”

Ms. Matthias taught at Liberty High School for 14-1/2 years before transferring to Cedar Lee.

This week, county school leaders announced her selection as Fauquier’s representative in the Washington Post’s Teacher of the Year competition.

A panel of school administrators selected Ms. Matthias among 16 other teacher nominees.

The Post’s criteria for the award include the ability to instill in students a desire to learn and achieve, to understand the individual needs of students, to share subject matter effectively, to foster cooperative relationships with colleagues and the community, and to demonstrate outstanding leadership.

Each of the local nominees received a glass apple and a cash award from the Fauquier Excellence in Education Foundation on Feb. 20.

Ms. Matthias talked about her work during an interview Tuesday afternoon at Cedar Lee. Edited excerpts follow.

Why do you teach agriculture?

I think it’s the most important subject there is. Without agriculture, we would be naked and hungry.

We talk about cotton, wool, leather, what they’re wearing. I think they get the food part of it, but the fiber portion is important as well.

I grew up in the city, in Ocala, Fla., with no agricultural background. I was in a Latin class, not doing well (in high school), and the guidance counselor suggested I get another elective, agriculture.

I worked at a flower shop in high school and as a part-time job in college, and I loved it. I almost went into horticulture, but the teaching aspect, I truly felt like I was called to be in this profession. I love it as much as I did in 1990.

What does the future hold for agriculture in Fauquier County?

The future is very bright for agriculture. I don’t think it’s necessarily just in production agriculture (growing crops and raising livestock), but all the other facets — marketing, distribution, processing, food science, large and small animal care.

Everyone who works at Safeway, Food Lion, Giant is involved with the distribution of agricultural products.

Even though this is a predominately agricultural community, I think a lot of people forget the connection back to the basics of agriculture. I hope that’s where I’m making a difference here is bringing awareness to the industry for young people.

The horticulture industry is going to continue to grow and flourish. The interest in gardening, landscaping is really strong here and throughout Virginia.

How has Future Farmers of America changed since you started teaching?

In the last 26 years, the impact of the female membership has been tremendous. When I joined FFA in 1982, women had only been allowed to be members for 13 years. The statistics show almost half (about 44 percent) of the membership is female right now in the organization.

Membership is at an all-time high, with more than 640,000, according to the FFA website. There are amazing opportunities in agribusiness, entrepreneurship, leadership, public speaking, science and research. It’s an industry for everybody.

There were less than 10 in FFA at Cedar Lee before I came. My first year, there were 49 members and this year we have 69.

In FFA and in the class, I teach public speaking, communication and leadership. In so many things we do it’s tactile and experiential.

What do students who take your class end up doing as careers?

It’s every gamut. I have former students who are professional firefighters, in the medical field and education. That’s what I think is so wonderful. You don’t have to really go into the field, but you can take the skills learned in the class — communication skills and the desire to have a strong work ethic, responsibility — and apply them to whatever career they want to go into.

What ranks among the most important things you teach your students?

To be an educated citizen and consumer. To be aware, look at the world with a different set of eyes.

Today, my sixth-graders ate plant parts. When I tell them early on they are like, ‘I’m not going to eat plants.’ What they don’t realize is broccoli is a flower, tomato is a fruit, onion is a bulb. Realizing the connection back to the basics of agriculture. I ask them what they ate for breakfast, lunch and supper and say did you realize in your hamburger, you had wheat in your bun, ketchup from a tomato, eggs in mayonnaise, the mustard came from a seed. It’s that ‘aha’ moment for them. I think it’s a genuine interest that they want to know and that’s a joy.

What do you find most rewarding?

Their success. Not necessarily in plaques or state (FFA) winners. Success as humans. Every kid needs to be reached. To see them become productive members of the community.

What do you find most demanding about the job?

Trying not to take things home with me. I see about 120 kids each day. If they are having a bad day, it’s difficult for me not to feel it as well. But, the joys outweigh the struggles.

What do you regard as your greatest accomplishment?

I don’t know how to answer that. I hope that I’ve made a positive difference in the lives of others.

Can you explain the “Buddy Program” and why you started it?

When I taught in Florida at Durant High School, I implemented a similar program there, where I taught a group of intellectually-disabled students.

When I came here to LHS, we would take an upper level horticulture class and pair intellectual disabled students with them. It was more for the general education kids in so many ways, because they realized the intellectually-disabled students were just like them, only they learned differently. The general education students made friends far beyond the parameters of class.

This year, at Cedar Lee, there are eighth-grader agriculture students who work with a special group of intellectually-disabled students (some who are non-verbal and use devices to communicate.) It warms my heart.

Some help feed the class pets — two guinea pigs, a bird, and trout — and water plants outside the school.

The special education students are not afraid anymore to feed the guinea pigs.

Most of these young people will be able to get jobs, but it needs to be routine, work-skill specific. What my kids are learning is acceptance and joy.

To see my FFA officers and how they have grown as human beings in the acceptance of the special education kids, it’s tremendous. That’s making them better citizens and more aware.

What do you make of being chosen as Fauquier’s representative for The Washington Post’s Teacher of the Year?

Humble, because I have the opportunity to work with so many exceptional educators here in this building and throughout the county.

It’s humbling to be in that group of nominees. They have the same love and passion that I do all over this county. I’m honored and humbled.

Kim Matthais Teacher of the Year 2017 by Fauquier Now on Scribd

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