Sherry Heishman, Agricultural Education teacher and FFA advisor at Central High School since 1985, is well-known among agricultural educators across the Commonwealth.
Several times during her tenure at Central High School, the Virginia Association of Agricultural Educators (VAAE) has recognized Mrs. Heishman as the state’s Agriscience Teacher of the Year, an award given for the ag teacher's inclusion of science into the agriculture curriculum. In 2014, Ms. Heishman was also named one of six National Agriscience Teachers of the Year by the National Association of Agricultural Educators.
In 2016, the VAAE named Sherry Heishman Virginia's Outstanding Agricultural Education Teacher, an honor that recognizes teachers "who are at the pinnacle of their profession--those who are conducting the highest quality agricultural education programs. This award recognizes leadership in agriculture/agribusiness, civic, community, and professional activities. Outstanding agricultural educators are innovators and catalysts for student success in agricultural education.
These accolades are high honors. Yet, Ms. Heishman remains humble and is more proud of her students’ accomplishments at regional, state and national competitions than she is of her own accomplishments.
According to Ms. Melissa D. Hensley, Principal of Central High School, Mrs. Heishman is the epitome of what is expected of teachers at Central High School. She puts students at the forefront of the instructional framework while developing a plethora of opportunities to extend learning outside of the classroom setting. Mrs. Heishman is a gifted educator, who serves as a role model for our students, our teachers and our community.
Students’ successes under Ms. Heishman’s coaching include two National Livestock Skillathon winning teams, two National Stockman of the Year winners, one National Tractor Operator champion, nine National Proficiency Award finalists and two National Proficiency Award winners, two National Agriscience student finalists, two American Star Farmer finalists, one American Agribusiness Star finalist, three Big E "national " Star Farmers, one Big E "national" Ag Placement winner,
sixty-one state winning teams, at least fifty-six State Proficiency Award winners, seven State Star Farmer winners, three State Stars in Agricultural Placement, two State Stars in Agricultural Business, two State Stars in Agriscience, and sixteen state officers including five state presidents. The Central High School FFA is also home to two national officers. Brian Walsh was the national FFA President, and Dana Fisher served as the national FFA Vice-President.
Mrs. Heishman’s nomination forms for both state and national recognitions make clear that her primary concerns are her students, her curriculum, and her method of instruction. She values her students as unique and important individuals. She strives “to teach each student to realize the potential they have.” Her curriculum is science-based, and the scientific method is taught. “Teaching agriculture without science is virtually impossible,” she commented. Of her method of instruction, Mrs. Heisman says, “I am a guide letting the student’s natural curiosity direct his/her learning.” Her classroom is a model for hands-on, inquiry based instruction.
In the photos above, students set-up for a lab to accompany Ms. Heishman lesson on biosecurity as it applies to the farm and livestock industry. Mrs. Heishman divides the class into small groups with each lab member having a specific responsibility. Every student will wear disposable gloves for their own safety and to avoid contamination of the experiment. Various scenarios of biosecurity problems are given to each group. One group will select a shoe from one of their members for this lab. One member of the group will swab that shoe sole with a Q-Tip and place the result into petri dish #1. The sole of the shoe will be washed with soap and water and swabbed again with that result placed into petri dish #2. Finally, the sole is cleaned with Lysol or another disinfectant and swabbed once again with a Q-Tip. This result goes into petri dish #3. All of the petri dishes are taped securely and left at room temperature for 5 or more days. They are able to view the growth of the bacteria without a microscope and are usually amazed at the increase in the colonies of bacteria. E-coli is usually found, but staph has been identified as well. Students never open the petri dishes, which are properly disposed of.
"Teaching agriculture without science is almost impossible,." said Sherry Heishman
“I have the unique situation of having been one of Mrs. Heishman's students who has now become a colleague,” wrote Derek Ritenour, agriscience teacher at Peter Muhlenberg Middle School. “As her student I learned the value of a hands-on education. Mrs. Heishman always taught us in ways that exemplified the principles of learning by doing. Her genuine love of agriculture and passion for sharing that love with others was evidenced by her willingness to go above and beyond to bring us real-life learning opportunities.
“As her colleague, I have continued to see the same passion I saw from Mrs. Heishman as her student. I also see how much of herself Mrs. Heishman invests into her career. There is very little she won't do to enhance the educational experience her students are offered.
Students in Mrs. Heishman’s Introduction to Veterinary Science class, which is dual-enrolled with
Lord Fairfax Community College, practice physical exams skills on Kate,
Ms. Heishman’s Border Collie.
“I've also come to learn that Mrs. Heishman, the driven teacher, is also Mrs. Heishman, the competitive student. A couple of years ago Mrs. Heishman made the commitment to finish her MS degree in Agriculture and Life Science from Virginia Tech. While this was certainly a personal goal for Mrs. Heishman, the completion of her degree in the twentieth-some odd year of her career meant she would be equipped to offer her students dual enrollment opportunities through Lord Fairfax Community College.
“To this day I am learning from Mrs. Heishman through her innovative teaching techniques, willingness to be a life-long learner, and her love for all things Blue and Gold. I am proud to be her student and colleague and very fortunate to call her my mentor and friend.“
Abbi Copp, agriculture teacher at Strasburg High School, is also a former student of Mrs. Heishman. “I took my first ag. class at Central High School my sophomore year. I had Mrs. Heishman as a teacher, and she encouraged me to join FFA and participate in activities and fill out an application to be an officer. Through her encouragement, I served as reporter and vice president my junior and senior years. I participated in several career development events, including the Meat Evaluation [Career Development Event (CDE)], where our team placed 1st in Virginia and competed at the National Convention.”
“As a teacher and FFA advisor, Mrs. Heishman always expected you to do your best and give 110% effort. While she always had high expectations for us as students and FFA members, her expectations always made me want to work harder and try my best so I could achieve my greatest potential.”
“Both Mrs. Heishman and Mr. Bowers showed me the hard work and dedication it takes to be a great agriculture teacher. They both always told me I should think about agricultural education as a career opportunity. I was pretty resistant because I wanted to be a veterinarian, but I should have known they both knew best.
“Now as an agriculture teacher myself, I've had the opportunity to work with Mrs. Heishman as a colleague. She has been helpful as a mentor and is an endless source of information and help. Whenever I've had a question, or needed help, she has never hesitated to provide a listening ear or helpful hand.
Students dissect a sheep's brain to learn the parts of the brain
and which of the five senses those parts are responsible for
Sherry Heishman is truly an asset to agricultural education. She is an invaluable source of information to new and veteran teachers. She pushes students to do and be the best they can be. She cares about helping students reach their full potential and uses the opportunities in agricultural education and FFA to do it."
For Sherry Heishman, what is paramount always comes back to her students. “The best is, “ said Mrs. Heishman, “I have had the opportunity to work with many students who are wonderful individuals, successful in life, and willing to give back for the opportunities they have received. Through FFA. many are in Ag using the skills they learned and some found their career choice by participating in FFA and Ag classes.”
The Shenandoah County Public Schools is honored
that Sherry Heishman chooses to be a part of Team Shenandoah.