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Hands-on work: Fochs retiring after 32 years teaching agriculture

Photo courtesy of Kevin Fochs

Park High School agriculture teacher Kevin Fochs teaches horticulture students Mathias Diaz, left, Angel Yarnell, center, and Rylie Adams, right, how to take a cutting from a geranium in the school’s greenhouse last week.

 

 

For 26 years, Kevin Fochs has taught agriculture and advised FFA at Park High School, and now he has decided to “try some new stuff.”

“I’ve been around long enough that I’m teaching the kids of the kids that I taught when I first came here,” Fochs said. 

More than 3,000 students have attended Fochs’ classes over the years.

 

A different atmosphere

Looking back on his career, Fochs said it was often the students who were less motivated to succeed academically who thrived in his program and gave him a special feeling of accomplishment as a teacher. 

Many of those students might not have stayed in school if they hadn’t had the option to take his classes, Fochs said.

No Park High student was ever required to step into his classroom, he said.

Classes Fochs teaches now include four levels of agriculture, as well as horticulture, metals and, new this year, sustainable livestock production. He has also taught electricity and mechanics.

“I have been fortunate to teach kids that want to be here,” he said.

Fochs said he took pride in teaching in a “different atmosphere,” where students could do hands-on work that led to developing valuable life skills.

Students who took agriculture and shop classes and participated in FFA learned how to be respectful, how to be leaders and how to work together as a team, Fochs said.

“Those aren’t skills that you actually teach, but they’re skills that the kids get when they go through this program for four years,” he said.

Fochs’ career as a teacher was also unique because he saw many students every year for four years and also advised them in FFA.

“Some of these kids saw me as much as they would a parent,” he said, “so I got pretty close to kids.”

 

Living to serve

The walls in Fochs’ classroom and office are covered with award plaques — both FFA student and team awards and several outstanding teacher awards for Fochs.

The “neatest” award in his classroom, Fochs said, is the FFA “Building Montana Communities” award for community service, which the Park High team won eight out of the last 10 years.

“It’s nice to give kids that ownership of their community, teach them to give back and realize it’s not just about them,” Fochs said.

A few community projects that PHS students have worked on over the years have been building the fence between the railroad tracks and the Livingston Depot, fixing the city’s Christmas lights and putting them up year after year, building picnic tables for local parks, and helping community organizations with food drives, Fochs said.

 

Farm kids and city kids

When Fochs first started teaching agriculture 32 years ago in Hobson, most of his students were from a farm or ranch, or worked on one, he said.

“Now about 5 percent of the kids I see are actually involved in production agriculture,” he said. 

But, in some ways, agriculture is more popular today than it was 20 years ago, Fochs said.

“When I first started, parents were saying to kids, ‘We don’t want you to come back to the farm.’ Now it’s not discouraged,” he said.

“Agriculture is a profitable lifestyle. It’s a profession to be proud of,” he added.

One of Fochs’ favorite teaching stories is about a former student who grew up in town, Jason Noyes, who told him on the first day of class that he planned on dropping the class, but three days later decided he might be interested after all and decided to stay enrolled.

Noyes ended up joining FFA and studying agriculture all four years at Park High. Later, he studied veterinary technology at Montana State University-Bozeman and married a farm girl, and he now runs a wheat farm in Toston, Fochs said.

When Noyes got married, he asked Fochs to stand up in his wedding.

Recalling his special relationship with Noyes Wednesday, tears welled up in Fochs’ eyes.

 

New stuff

His next immediate project, Fochs said, is to campaign and run for a seat in Montana House District 60 as a state legislator. 

He also plans to stay busy maintaining his nine-hole “extreme golf” course on his 20 acres where he lives with his wife, Lisa.

 He also raises a few pigs and has considered commercial flower production on his property.

“I know I’m gonna miss teaching,” Fochs said.

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Rose Brown may be reached at rbrown@livent.net.