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News from 2023-2024

Posted: November 28, 2023

State Ag Group Bestows Teacher of the Year Honor on APS Educator

A. Montoya fourth-grade teacher launched school garden, composting program.

Faye Richards at the awards luncheon.

Faye Richards at the awards luncheon.

Three years ago, Faye Richards – a fourth-grade teacher at A. Montoya Elementary – noticed a neglected space behind the school and set out to transform it into a thriving school garden.

She secured a $3,000 grant from the Whole Kids Foundation to purchase plants and other materials for the garden and has succeeded in creating a working, outdoor classroom enjoyed by students, teachers, and staff throughout the year. She uses the space to educate students about plant families, the environment, where food comes from, and so much more.

She also launched a composting program with her students, and she and her class did a video presentation for the entire school about composting.

For those efforts, Richards has been named the 2023 Teacher of the Year by New Mexico Agriculture in the Classroom, a statewide nonprofit focused on promoting the importance of agriculture. Richards was presented with the award during the New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau annual meeting lunch on Nov. 17.

"She is the epitome of what this award seeks to honor, which is that agriculture belongs in the classroom and that it is lush with never-ending opportunities to learn right alongside the students while providing rich community connections that help students understand the importance of where their food originates while helping them see the value of being life-long learners," said Traci Curry, director of New Mexico Ag in the Classroom.

Richards, who has been teaching for 15 years, said receiving the award was exciting for her and her entire East Mountain school.

“I think it’s really important for kids and anybody to know where their food is coming from,” she said. “We grow things, we eat them, and we share them with the school. We started composting from the cafeteria as well, so we’re not only growing things, but we’re making the soils that we’re growing things in.”

As the winner of the statewide award, Richards will receive a stipend to help cover the costs of attending the National Ag in the Classroom Conference in Salt Lake City in June. She is in the running for the National Ag in the Classroom Excellence in Teaching About Agriculture Award.

Richards said it’s been fun to connect the garden to the curriculum. Many of her students have started gardens of their own and are even composting at home.

“For me, personally, it’s just kind of rejuvenated my teaching,” she said of the school garden. “And on a bigger level, I hope we can influence more schools to compost.”