Nevada Union High School’s Luke Browning honored as Nevada County Teacher of the Year
For Nevada Union High School teacher Luke Browning, there is a big payoff for the hours he dedicates to his students, teaching them in the classroom, traveling with them to Future Farmers of America events and supervising their agricultural projects.
“I like to see kids get excited; I like to see kids learn skills that they can apply directly to their life,” said Browning, 32.
Browning, who teaches agricultural mechanics at Nevada Union, is being honored for his role in helping students build those skills.
Browning was recently named Nevada County’s 2016 Teacher of the Year.
The award puts him in the running to be named one of five California teachers of the year, an announcement that will be made at the end of October by the state department of education.
The county recognized Browning at a ceremony on Oct. 1 at the Miners Foundry Cultural Center. Several other educators were also honored that night as their school district’s teacher of the year, including Sandi Kasting, who teaches in the Chicago Park School District; Lisa Kauffman, from the Clear Creek School District; Melody Arnett of the Grass Valley School District; Leila Barber, a teacher at Yuba River Charter School; Melissa Conley, from the Penn Valley Union Elementary School District; Jacqueline Hollister, from the Pleasant Ridge Union School District; Sarah Johnson, of the Twin Ridges Elementary School District; and Beth Buti, a teacher in the Union Hill School District.
Browning, who is in his ninth year of teaching and his fifth at Nevada Union, said he was “humbled” by the recognition — but he was quick to credit everyone involved in the agricultural programs at both Nevada Union and Bear River high schools, from district administration to parent boosters.
“I’m very honored to get this award but I also know that I’m not getting recognized just because of what I’ve done,” Browning said. “I’m just one piece of the puzzle that makes the agricultural program work.”
That credit especially extends to his fellow agricultural teachers, he said.
“I don’t for a minute separate myself from those guys because we’re all doing the same and providing the same opportunity for those kids,” Browning said.
Browning knows firsthand how valuable an agricultural program can be for students. The Grass Valley native was dedicated to the program as a student at Bear River; he joked that he probably spent more time during those years with Bear River teacher Steve Paasch, who still teaches in the school’s agricultural program, than with his own family.
“That was the reason why I came to school,” Browning said. “The best part of my day was one of my ag classes.”
The program taught him how to set and work toward goals.
“I realized that life doesn’t just happen,” Browning said. “There’s an actual path that you can take, you can control your own destiny.”
It’s an attitude he strives to foster in his students, many of whom commit significant hours to the agricultural program at Nevada Union.
The program has three components — classroom work, leadership and career development events with the FFA, and a supervised agricultural experience, an agriculture-related project students take on outside of class.
His focus is on helping students use those experiences to become leaders in their community and to be prepared for their futures, whether that means heading off to college or into the workforce after high school.
“I want them to have the skill base, I want them to have the knowledge where they can make decisions where they’ll be productive,” Browning said.
That’s why his most gratifying moments as a teacher come when his students’ hard work pays off, such as when a student places first in the state at an extemporaneous speaking competition, or when he receives a Facebook message from a former student who is now using the welding skills he learned in Browning’s class as a Navy Seal.
“That stuff is what it’s about, that’s what keeps you going,” Browning said. “When you hear that, ‘Hey, that really made a difference in my life,’ that makes it good.”
To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.
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