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Becky Cronk named Teacher Turn The Key Award winner

Sean Ellertson
St. James Plaindealer

St. James Middle School/High School teacher Becky Cronk was recently named a Teacher Turn The Key Award winner.

Teacher Turn The Key program is a national professional development program, and one teacher from each state is selected every year for teachers in the 2nd-4th year of teaching.

"The goal of [the program] is to retain good, young teachers," said Cronk.

Teachers within the region encouraged Cronk to apply for the award at the state level. Cronk was chosen out of about a dozen other young educators as the Minnesota nominee.

"We are very proud of Ms. Cronk and the work she has quickly established in St. James Middle/Senior High School," said St. James Middle/Senior High School Principal Karla Beck. "Ms. Cronk has the needed energy and mindset to connect with and challenge her students. She is extremely organized, bringing a focus to her work that draws students to her classroom and the FFA Chapter.  She has managed to do all of this in addition to serving on the Middle/Senior High School Leadership Team, serve as secretary in the Coaches/Advisors Association, and play an integral part in keeping our Staff Equity Team organized and prepared. Congratulations to Ms. Cronk on being selected as Minnesota's Turn the Key recipient."

In her third year as an Ag teacher and FFA Director, Cronk, along with Jeremy Spitzner, have taken steps to rebuild the FFA program in St. James. Cronk has also undertaken equity courses to make sure that all students are valued in the ag programs offered at the school.

"We've developed a really good relationship with the corn and soybean growers of Watonwan County. We help them with some of their activities and they help us with some of our activities. I am a part of the fair board, so I make sure that is a success for students when they showcase their projects in the summer."

In order to recruit and maintain student interest in FFA, Cronk has held game nights at the school. Cronk has focused on developing contest teams and has encouraged students to apply for awards and honors.

Last year, four students received their state degrees. Over 50% of the students that participate in Career and Leadership Development events move on to compete at the state level. The FFA trapshooting team has also been restarted.

In the classroom, Cronk requires her students to partake in supervised agricultural experience projects, a project done outside of the classroom that gets the students involved in agriculture. 

Cronk received the news of her national award via email.

“I was super excited. It was really validating to know that the hard work and all the time I've been putting into building our program and making it something that kids want to be a part of was being seen and the work was worth it.”

The program is tied in with the National Ag. Ed. Association conference, which Cronk will attend virtually this year to workshop and learn from other ag teachers from around the country.

Next year, Cronk will be able to attend in person next year in New Orleans.