Connecting students to their rural community

Written by Ashley McFadden on |
Sydney Groen

As the oldest of four siblings, alumna Sydney Groen ’17 has in many ways always been a teacher. Her strong sense of family and home is one of the reasons why Groen lives and teaches in the rural village of Warren, Illinois, where she specializes in Agriculture Education.

Groen teaches a wide range of ages from middle school through high school for the Warren School District, teaching plant science, animal science, and ag science among other courses. She is also the first person to run their new greenhouse and volunteers at an FFA Advisor. Recently, she wrote and received a grant from the Warren FFA Alumni for an activity bus because in a rural district, the ability to travel is essential to learning.

“Some unique opportunities we have living in a rural area is that in agriculture class if we are learning about a topic, we can go and see it. For example, if we are learning about the dairy industry, I have students that their families will let us go tour their farm. There are multiple ways that the community has let us do this,” Groen said.

The field of Agriculture Education was one that Groen first learned about at UW-Platteville. While she knew education was right for her, agriculture was also an important part of her youth in Highland, Illinois. The opportunities she found while working on her degree only helped to cement her interests in both education and agriculture. She was involved in the FFA Club; Sigma Alpha, a professional agricultural sorority; and Circle K International, a student-led collegiate service organization.

Groen credits Dr. Mark Zidon, Dr. Rick Bockhop, and Jessica Brogley for their support and influence during her time at UW-Platteville. The campus itself is something she also remembers fondly, “I really enjoyed the feel of the campus. When you walk through buildings, people hold doors open for you. It’s very friendly. It’s a small town feel in a bigger place.”

Similar to the community she found at UW-Platteville, Groen has discovered that connections with the Warren area have been essential to learning in and out of the classroom, “I enjoy the fact that all of my students come from different backgrounds. I also enjoy the support I get from our small community. We are able to go out and do things in our community and be recognized for it. For example, each year we put together a tree for our festival of trees that happens in the community building. We have also started partnering with the village to grow their plants in our greenhouse and plant them in the spring in their planters that line the downtown strip.”

For anyone thinking about becoming a rural educator, Groen shares the following advice: “Be open to change and new Ideas because not every year is going to be the same when you are teaching. Explore all of your opportunities.”