Medina’s award-winning ag teacher tries numerous lessons to help students learn, even poetry

Photos by Tom Rivers: Todd Eick, Medina’s ag teacher and FFA advisor, checks on the alpacas at Medina’s Model Farm on the school campus. Eick said students learn responsibility in caring for the animals at the farm. He hopes it will help them keep farm animals on their own when they are adults. Students make products from the alpaca fiber.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 19 January 2023 at 7:06 pm

MEDINA – Todd Eick is always looking for ways to help his students make connections and learn in the classroom.

He has won statewide and national awards for teaching agriculture and technology to Medina students.

He has been lauded for developing a farm on the school campus, for an active agriculture program with 90-plus students where then use laser engravers and other technology in class, while also learn to make wool from alpaca fiber.

Jack Dunn holds a jar with the ingredients to make M & M cookies. He said Eick sets a high standard for students in the program. Ag students put together 72 of those with a reusable jar during last month’s citrus sale.

Last month he won a national award for ag teachers, and Eick can’t help but smile that it was for a classroom exercise about poetry. Eick keeps an open mind about ways to teach his students.

Eick overheard his daughter Camryn working on homework in an English class taught by Karen Jones. Camryn was doing a “blackout poem” and Eick was impressed how it helped her to learn the material, and hone in on the crux of the passage.

He tried it in his classes. Students were urged to find an article about hunger and then black out some of the words. Most of the words were blacked out, but the remaining words were treated as a verse or poem.

Eick said he and the students were moved by the powerful messages about people who don’t get enough to eat.

‘Then would scan the articles for themes and key words, and then black out what wasn’t used,” he said. “It was a very interesting way to do ag literacy.”

That class activity was picked as one of six “Ideas Unlimited Awards” in the entire country by the National Association of Agricultural Educators. Eick received the award at a convention in Las Vegas.

“It’s a big deal because it recognizes that ag teachers teach a heck of a lot more than agriculture,” Eick said.

Todd Eick checks on some of the birds and small animals at the ag shop. Eick and his students made one of the “quail condos” for the birds. This area includes quail, pigeons, hamsters, parakeets, bearded dragons and frogs.

Twice he has also won statewide “Golden Owl” awards. He gets nominated for those awards by students and community members. Eick said those awards are especially meaningful because the ag program is recognized for a steady contribution to the school and Medina community.

Eick, 50, wasn’t planning on being a teacher. He grew up working on his family’s dairy farm. His father Bill and uncle Ken ran LaVerne Eick & Sons dairy on Freeman Road until 2006. Todd remembers his first job there at age 8, picking rocks out of a field. And many hours raking hay.

Eick wasn’t even thinking about a career in agriculture. He went into the Air Force and then earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Buffalo State with a focus on interior and furniture design.

He was building furniture and making functional art when he decided to pursue certification in teaching. He worked for Albion from 2011 to 2008 in technical education, running the wood shop.

Eick then worked in carbon dioxide plant next to Western New York Energy for two years, when he got a call in April 2010 to finish out the year for Medina’s ag program.

Tyler Allen, right, and Jackson Caldwell, both 10th graders, assemble a box for samplers as part of the Medina FFA annual citrus sale last month. The samplers included locally made and locally grown products including pickles, jams, popcorn and other products.

Eick has transformed the ag program in his tenure, starting a farm on campus with animals, empowering students to run a very ambitious annual citrus sale, hosting the state FFA convention in 2015 with 1,200 students, and teaching students the latest in technology and some old-time trades such as weaving. Eick wants to help students to be adaptable to their future careers and be open to learning on the job.

“It’s not cows and plows,” Eick said about today’s agriculture and FFA. “It’s beakers and speakers.”

Eick runs the busy ag program while also coaching varsity lacrosse and serving on the coaching staff for Medina’s football program.

FFA students also used a laser engraver to include Medina FFA and an agricultural design on the wooden box.

Eick uses his furniture building knowledge to guide students in making wooden boxes to display locally produced in samplers for the annual citrus sale in December. The students made the display boxes and used a laser engraver to etch “Medina FFA” and an agricultural design on the wooden box.

If the work isn’t done well, Eick scraps it and has the students do it again.

“He expects quality,” said Jackson Caldwell, a 10th grader. “We don’t put out junk. We put out good quality craftmanship.”

Inside the ag shop there are quail condo and cages for quail, pigeons, hamsters, parakeets, bearded dragons and frogs. There weren’t any animals when Eick started.

“It gives the kids a hands-on opportunity they normally wouldn’t get,” Eick said.

They have to clean and maintain the cages and condos, and do health checks on the animals. They learn how to feed and handle them.

There is also an outdoor “living laboratory” for the FFA with a small barn and pasture. There are alpacas, pigs and goats for students to take care of. Students haul feed and water. They also learn to shear the alpacas and turn the alpaca fiber into dryer balls, which replaces the need for dryer sheets.

Eick also led the FFA students in a project last summer and fall to knit blue hats. The Medina FFA made the hats and gave them to Medina middle schoolers in October as part of an anti-bullying initiative – #HatsNotHate.

He initially was drawn to teaching with the idea of having summers and weekends off. But that hasn’t quite panned out. Eick is busy year-round as a teacher. And he is constantly mulling new ideas for the classroom.

After the blackout poetry success, Eick said he is open to more lessons typically led by the English teachers.

“Next we might try haikus,” he said.

Medina started the model farm in 2014 with a grant paying for much of the initial costs.