Hoppes chosen as Educator of the Year

REED CITY — Jerry Hoppes, Reed City High School's agriscience education teacher, is being recognized as the 2014 Educator of the Year by Michigan Farm Bureau.

The purpose of the award is to recognize teachers who have done an outstanding job of integrating basic agricultural concepts in the school curriculum, developed problem solving skills through analysis and showed consistent teaching excellence.

Hoppes was nominated by the Osceola County Farm Bureau for the second year in a row, and is thrilled to receive the title this year.

"It feels awesome," he said, "It's probably one of the greatest accomplishments I've had as a professional. A state title. It's pretty sweet."

Hoppes decided to begin a career in education due to having a number of teachers as a student who did not engage the class or help students become lovers of math and science. He enjoys spending time with youth and inspiring them, keeping them interested and showing them respect as young adults.

Hoppes has been employed at Reed City High School since 1999. He is currently teaching a biodome class, Earth science, biology and outdoor education to about 250 students. The biodome class teaches vermiculture composing and soil classification, hydroponics and aquaponic systems. Students incorporate alternative energy projects to help with production in the class, learn about pest control and safe ways to reduce or get rid of them, and detect and determine if nutrient deficiencies are present in the plants they grow. Traditional and non-traditional growing techniques and a nutrient pond filled with koi fish are being used for learning purposes.

"I've always wanted a greenhouse," Hoppes said. "A couple of years ago I was teaching an environmental science class and we were talking about alternative energy. I've always wanted to get off the grid, and a lot of aspects of the greenhouse are geared toward the traditional green greenhouse, but it's not fully off the grid. We have electricity and heat, but it's what we needed to do to be functional in the wintertime."

Apart from the students and the school district, Hoppes has local support that keeps the biodome running efficiently. Donations of soil, growing containers and more from residents and businesses help supply the class with needed products that would be too expensive to purchase or too hard to come by. The class also partners with local stores to sell their organic vegetables and herbs.

The biodome also keeps the students encouraged, connected and involved in the classroom, Hoppes added, but he also allows students from kindergarten to eighth grade to tour the facility to peak their interest. Other activities like plant growing contests, plant sales and 4-H involvement allow the passion to form and grow. In addition, Hoppes is helping set up a hydroponic system at G.T. Norman Elementary to grow tomato plants.

"The traditional ways of farming came and went and now we're in the big industry farming, but now we have to go back to the traditional ways of farming," he said. "Some of the ways I'm teaching in here, like the aquaponics and the hydroponics, kids in inner cities don't have that."

Looking toward the future, Hoppes has additional ideas to expand and improve the agriscience program.

"We already have a 30- to 40-foot area plotted out for a community garden and we're going to be using raised boxes and recycled semi truck tires for individual growing beds," he added. "We use a layering compost technique called lasagna gardening and it works really well.

"It's awesome to see the students once everything starts to grow," Hoppes said. "It's amazing. They start taking ownership in the class and this is their dome as far as they're concerned. No one disrespects the dome. They monitor their own behavior because why would you want to ruin a good thing? This is just a small aspect of this whole class."