PARIS – Nice, entertaining, a good communicator, an effective teacher.

These are just some of the words students used to describe Oxford Hills Technical School teacher Al Schaeffer.

Schaeffer has been named Agriscience Teacher of the Year by the Maine FFA Association, known more commonly until recent years as the Future Farmers of America.

“He always seems to do something to make it fun,” said Bobby Joe Gammon, the only girl of the dozen or so students in Schaeffer’s forestry class who this year took first place in the statewide FFA competition in Orono and will go the the National FAA Convention in Indianapolis this summer.

“We just found out yesterday that the team that placed first in the Arigcultural Mechanics has decided not to go to nationals. Our team (is) in second by two points, so now I will be taking a forestry team and an agricultural, team also,” an excited Schaeffer said Friday.

As the state teacher of the year, Schaeffer is himself eligible to compete for national distinction. He will be under consideration by the national FFA organization to be named one of four finalists from state applicants to compete for the title of Agriscience Teacher of the Year.

If selected, he will travel to Indiana, the home for FAA, in October to be interviewed during the 2007 national convention.

“Winning agriscience teachers represent the top in their field, creating innovative programs in food, environmental, animal, plant, soil and mechanical engineering sciences,” said officials at the national FFA organization in a statement issued recently about Schaeffer win. “They help to ensure students are able to succeed in today’s competitive, technologically advanced world.”

The honor is no surprise to his students.

“He’s been teaching forestry for 18 years. He knows what he’s talking about,” Devon Smith said. The junior class forestry student said Schaeffer’s enthusiasm for what he teachers makes his students want to learn.

The Oxford County Technical School FFA chapter is one of some 7,242 chapters that represent all 50 states as well as Puerto Rico and the Virgin islands for students, ages 12 to 21, enrolled in agricultural programs. In 1988, 60 years after the organization was organized, officials changed its name to the National FFA Organization to better reflect the expanded agricultural opportunities encompassed in science, business and technology in addition to farming.

“It’s a tougher sell to kids,” said Schaeffer of the name Future Farmers of America. “It’s about farming. It’s about plows, cows and sows.” But with the change of the organization’s name that reflects a change in what agricultural education is now about, students have a much broader spectrum of careers to chose from.

Built on three core areas of classroom and laboratory work, the FFA offers students opportunities to prepare for leadership, personal growth and career success, whether it’s in the farming business or elsewhere.

“To say it’s a leadership program, it’s more than that,” Schaeffer said.

“We run a pretty full program,” he said. “We do classwork and lab work. We’re out in the woods a lot. We use bulldozers, but we learn their safe operation first,” he said as an example of the indoor and outdoor classroom work. The class may be out in the woods with a compass mapping in the morning and return to create topographical maps in the afternoon, he said as another example.

The program provides diverse education that can take students into a number of fields ranging from farming to marketing, biology to management.

The students also enter contests such as the recent woodsman competition in Dixfield where the class placed first in log rolling.

“It’s hard but it isn’t,” said Smith of the competition where students are on a 16-foot-long log on top of two other logs and have to roll 24 feet. “It takes practice. He (Schaeffer) pushed us through it.”

Smith said he is not sure what the future holds for him when he graduates next year, but he is convinced that there is a future in farming and certainly in the offshoots of the agricultural field.

Schaeffer, a Gray resident who earned a bachelor’s degree in forestry from the University of Maine and a masters in vocational education from the University of Southern Maine, said the classes will help students whether they continue in the agriculture field or not.

“They have learned skills that are transferable to many fields,” he said.

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