Enthusiasm emanates from Samantha Sims. Now in her sixth year of teaching career and technical education at Ellensburg High School (EHS), Sims has already amassed an impressive record of Washington state FFA champions and top-four finishers at the national competition level.
Sims was recently awarded the 2023 National New Teacher of the Year by the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE). The ACTE award recognizes new career and technical education (CTE) teachers who have made significant contributions toward innovative and unique career and technical education programs and shown a professional commitment early in their careers.
The ACTE is a national organization dedicated to providing leadership to help develop an effective educational workforce for CTE educators. This includes instructors in agriculture, business and marketing, technical and computer science, criminal justice, health sciences, sports medicine, and more. It includes high school teachers, administrators, college professors and other professionals.
“I was humbled by this great honor,” said Sims. “I believe it speaks highly of the amazing support our program receives from the Ellensburg community and our EHS school staff. It was an incredible accolade, and I was fortunate that my husband, my father and my favorite professor from the University of Idaho (UofI) were all able to attend.”
Born and raised in Chelan, Wash., Sims was a 2011 Lake Chelan High School graduate. Her father was the FFA teacher at that time. No stranger to competing at FFA competitions, Sims won first place in horse evaluation in Washington state, earning the opportunity to compete at the national FFA competition for the Lake Chelan High School FFA program. Right after graduation, she was elected Washington state FFA president.
“That meant a year devoted to the FFA groups all over the state,” explained Sims. “I also visited several other states and Washington, D.C., that year.”
Sims served as a delegate to the national FFA convention and was involved in policy decisions and other issues. After completing that year of work, Sims attended Walla Walla Community College (WWCC), finishing up her associate’s degree in animal science in 2013.
Sims did not originally envision a career as an FFA teacher. Following her time at WWCC, she worked for a year for Chelan Fresh Apples in quality control.
“Working in the industry provided me with a different perspective to view my career from,” said Sims.
That same year, when her father was unable to take his FFA team to the county fair, he asked her to fill in as their chaperone and guide the students.
“I can remember the exact spot where I was standing with my clipboard, guiding a new crop of FFA students from my hometown that day. It hit me like a ton of bricks; this is what I want to do with my life.”
Sims enrolled at UofI to continue her education. She graduated with a degree in agriculture education and was hired at EHS before she had completed her course work at UofI. Due to a nearly unquenchable thirst for more learning, Sims earned her master’s from Western Governor’s University in curriculum and instruction while teaching.
Sims thrives on a busy, varied schedule. She begins each day with a research writing class she calls ag capstone. It is a senior-level class where the students earn English credit as well as five credits of college technical writing.
“I teach natural resources and ecology. I also teach welding 1 and welding 2, which include fabrication projects using all types of processes: oxygen/acetylene, arc, MIG, TIG, and plasma welding,” explained Sims. “We have a large plasma table where they can use computer-aided drafting to draw out and design whatever projects they want. One of my students is currently building a new bumper for his pickup truck.”
Sims also teaches agricultural biology, a sophomore-level lab science class. She incorporates animal and plant science learning in the class.
“Quite a few of my students are avid hunters or they raise their own livestock, and we use those animals to teach about muscles, tendons and how animals move. They learn about anatomy and physiology of beef, pork and wild game. Even if most of them are not going to become butchers or meat inspectors, they take away very valuable knowledge as a consumer. We have a meat grinder, a band saw and a full set of knives for them to get hands-on experience processing meat.”
Sims is very well-informed on the science of meat inspecting, butchering and marketing. She and her husband, Clyde, raise miniature beef on acreage at their home between Ellensburg and Cle Elum. Their daughters, Murphie and Ryette, and their son, Cleo, help out with chores on the ranch.
“We like to call them mini-cows,” said Sims. “They require smaller acreage to raise, and they have great feed conversion. Mostly, they are shorter than standard cattle. This makes them easier on fences, and I must admit, I really like the cute factor.”
Sims noted that the smaller cows can produce an eight-inch ribeye steak with nice marbling, and they can also be great for milking.
Teaching CTE in her classes and to her FFA members is a dedication Sims takes very seriously. She firmly believes that no matter what type of employment her students choose, the knowledge and skills they gain from participation in the CTE classes will serve them well.
“FFA is a three-circle model: 1. Classroom lab instruction, 2. Integration of FFA and leadership opportunities, 3. Supervised agricultural experiences,” said Sims. “Many people don’t clearly understand what we do. We don’t just teach FFA. We teach agricultural education. Many different competitions are infused into the classroom curriculum to train and educate our students. We try to match our students with competitions that fit their interests and skill sets.
“We currently have over 160 students in our FFA group here at EHS. We have individuals or teams now competing in livestock evaluation, horse evaluation, veterinary science, meat science and technology, employment skills, parliamentary procedure, creative speaking, extemporaneous public speaking, prepared public speaking, agricultural issues, marketing planning, and more.”
When Sims and her staff FFA teaching colleague, Steve Russell, feel they need more precise or detailed information for the students, they will bring in guest educators from industry or universities to help instruct the students.
When teams compete at the state level, the top team in each category qualifies for the national competitions. In 2021, Sims had teams in marketing plans and horse evaluation that each won state, and both went on to finish in 4th place nationally in their competitions. EHS followed that up with another state title and a top-20 national FFA finish in horse evaluation in 2022.
“Those teams worked tirelessly throughout their high school years, and it really paid off with amazing accomplishments for them,” said Sims. “They will have a special place in my heart forever. My students are the favorite part of my work. They are my clientele, and I’m here to serve them.”
In her six years of teaching, Sims has had numerous teams place in the top eight at the state FFA competitions. She was chosen for the Teachers Turn The Key Award by the National Association of Agriculture Educators organization in 2020. In 2022, she was honored as the Washington Association of Agriculture Educators New Teacher of the Year.
“Once again, I want to mention that without the incredible support of the community, the EHS school staff and my students, I could not have accomplished any of these achievements,” she said.