Dordt pupil teaches ag at Rock Valley

Eighth-graders Diego Palma-Villar and Angel Gasca receive instruction from Rock Valley High School student teacher Jacob Van Der Wilt. The 23-year-old is a Dordt University senior and began assisting with agriculture education teacher Micah Weber’s classes at the start of the semester.

ROCK VALLEY—Jacob Van Der Wilt had only heard positive things about the Rock Valley School District’s agriculture education program, which is a major reason he chose to student-teach there.

“Even Rock Valley students going to Dordt, ‘They’re like, Oh man, I already learned this with Mr. Weber,” Van Der Wilt said, referring to Rock Valley ag teacher Micah Weber.

“The amount of effort and attention to what’s happening in the class, I really wanted to see how he did it because I haven’t heard a bad thing about what he does.”

The 23-year-old senior at Dordt University in Sioux Center began student-teaching in Weber’s classes at the start of the semester after having visited the school twice a week in the fall to observe the lessons. He is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in agriculture education and is set to graduate in May.

Van Der Wilt grew up on a farm about a mile north of Middleburg and graduated from Boyden-Hull High School in Hull in 2016. He still resides at his family farm — which grows corn and soybeans and raises cattle and hogs — and works there while not student teaching.

He spoke about how his academic major was a way to combine his farming background and desire to work with kids.

“I got to college and I’m like, ‘Well, maybe try tying those two things together, working with kids and working with agriculture,’ so that’s how I got to that point,” Van Der Wilt said.

One of the classes he has helped lead at Rock Valley is the agriculture exploratory class that runs for six weeks and is required for all eighth-graders. The goal of the course is to expose the students to agricultural concepts and potentially pique their interest in taking more ag classes in high school.

Van Der Wilt said some of the students may have grown up on a farm and are already familiar with the agriculture industry, while others do not come from such a background or may not be excited to learn about agriculture.

“Even if a student doesn’t pursue ag in high school, they’re still able to be part of the conversation when someone is talking about cattle, hogs, sheep, goats, all those kinds of things,” Van Der Wilt said.

Other classes in which he is assisting include Weber’s agriculture manufacturing course and his freshman ag course.

Students in the latter class did not have a chance to complete their eighth-grade ag exploratory last academic year due to the early closure from the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, they went through a faster-paced version of the class to get them caught up.

He and Weber also have had the students consider practical applications for the content they discuss in class instead of just learning about ag topics in the abstract.

“We’re doing things like designing feedlots, coming up with breeding plans for hogs and cattle, trying to do a little more real-world application stuff rather than just reading about it, hearing about it,” Van Der Wilt said. “Let’s actually do something with it and work with it.”

After Van Der Wilt graduates from Dordt, he plans to remain in N’West Iowa to continue helping on his family farm. In the meantime, he plans to keep an eye out for ag teaching openings in the area.

“I haven’t applied anywhere because around here, there haven’t been any jobs open, but that’s OK,” he said. “In the future, if it’s a year or two down the line and something opens, I’m definitely planning on applying.”