“My favorite part of being a skilled trades teacher is watching my students learn not just the hands-on techniques, but also how they can make a living at those trades.”

Casey Lunceford has taught agricultural mechanics at Ronan High School in Ronan, Montana for three years. He brings 10 years of experience owning and running a home company and sawmill to his teaching, as well as the skills from his high school and college days in Future Farmers of America. He credits FFA for teaching him about work ethic, communication, and lessons in mechanics, sales, and agronomy that he put to use every day while working in the industry. He has since earned a Master’s Degree in Agriculture Education, and serves as an officer in the Montana Association of Agriculture Educators and Vice President for the Montana Association of Career and Technology Educators.

Lunceford relied on his industry experience in his early days of teaching, but soon created a network with fellow agriculture teachers around Montana to fill out his curriculum. His program covers a variety of subjects, including welding, small engines, electrical wiring, hydraulics, and more. The variety allows students to explore many options, and aligns them with industry internships with mechanics, carpenters, and ranchers to set them up for career readiness. In his prize-winning application, Lunceford specifically recalled a student who took his small gas engines and mechanics classes. After graduating, this student went on to attend Universal Technical Institute for a motorcycle mechanic certificate, and now works on Harley Davidson bikes.

In-class projects tend to cover multiple areas of Lunceford’s curriculum, like overhauling the Lake County Fairgrounds hog barn and refurbishing horse stock trailers. The use of welding, body work, re-wiring and fabrication gives students hands-on work and resume-building experience for future endeavors. He credits projects like these for helping students learn as much from what to do in a real-life situation as they would in any class.

Over the last three years, Lunceford has brought the graduation rate for his department up from 90 percent to 100 percent. Lunceford is the first ever winner for the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence from Montana.

“There is no better way to know if a student is ready or has a desire to be in an industry than to spend time actually doing the hands-on work.”