Pannell selected as WAIC Educator of the YearWritten by Saige Albert
“Simply put, Jim Pannell makes a difference in students’ lives. He not only has the ability to teach students enrolled in his ag class about the value of Wyoming agriculture and natural resources, he seems to be a magnet for many other students, especially those needing direction in their everyday life,” said WAIC Board Chairman Mantha Phillips. “He encourages students to believe in themselves and strive for a better life through education. He just has a knack for not letting any student fall through the cracks.”
While Pannell’s teaching experience only totals four years, his roots in the agriculture industry run deep.
Pannell graduated from UW in 1985 with a degree in agriculture education. After graduation Pannell taught at LCCC and Meeteetse before marrying Kelly, his wife of 25 years, and returning to the family ranch near Hulett.
“I taught for two years starting in 1985, and then I ranched for 25 years,” commented Pannell. “I returned to teaching two years ago. Some people refer to me as the oldest rookie in the business.”
While ranching, Pannell maintained his involvement with youth, organizing and hosting numerous livestock judging contests, sponsoring yearly cattle industry educational seminars and serving on various boards that help promote youth.
Back in the saddle
When Pannell returned to teaching in 2010, one of his first acts as the new agriculture teacher was securing the land for the Hulett Ag Education Training Center, an acreage across the street from the Hulett Ag Department that has several barns, corrals, and a cattle working alley and chute.
“He and the students have built a school farm across the street from the shop area. Students are able to work with farm animals and learn up to date industry standards. The school farm has also helped promote town kids in getting involved in agriculture and learning that it’s more than cows and plows,” said Cynthia Lummis at the Wyoming Agriculture Hall of Fame picnic, where Pannell was recognized.
“Even though we are a rural community, we have a lot of kids that are urban and don’t have a real association with agriculture,” explained Pannell. “Through our classes, they get some exposure, and they get to have fun at the same time.”
Pannell built the agriculture and welding program at Hulett High School in two years from 23 students to 38 students, grades nine through 12. He has also increased the enrollment in grades six through 12 to a total of 59 students, or 71 percent of the sixth through twelfth grade population. He has worked diligently to build community partnerships and bring in experts to teach students and promote post-secondary options, as well.
“We have a really small school,” said Pannell. “We are kindergarten through twelfth grade, which is really cool, because I get to interact with not only the high school and middle school kids in my regular classes, but I get to interact with the elementary kids on almost a daily basis.”
In the agriculture program, Pannell noted that he focuses on hands-on opportunities for students.
“A student told me once, ‘I really enjoy this class because we spend the rest of our time sitting on our butts being told what to do, and we get to come down here and actually do something,’” said Pannell. “That meant a lot to me.”
Pannell also has an open-door policy for everyone – students, teachers, administration, parents and friends – and his enthusiasm and demeanor provide students with an atmosphere where they want to learn.
Kellen Wilson, one of Pannell’s students, said, “One of the best things about his classes is that if you want to do something, and it is within a reasonable limit, he lets us. He doesn’t try to limit or restrict us by saying everyone has to build the same thing.”
Wilson noted that the freedom for creativity has helped him throughout school.
“If we don’t know how to do something, we aren’t afraid to ask,” added Jesse Fosheim, a recent graduate of Pannell’s. “He shows us how to do things if we don’t know.”
“We aren’t afraid to make mistakes, and we aren’t afraid to ask questions in my class,” Pannell added.
“Students care about learning because they know Jim Pannell cares about them. We’re very fortunate to have Jim teaching ag class in Hulett,” said Phillips.
“Being named as Educator of the Year is an honor, and it’s humbling,” commented Pannell. “It’s not really a job when it’s something you enjoy and love, and when you get to work with kids like this, it’s fun.”
Educator of the Year Sponsors
The Educator of the Year program is sponsored by the following businesses and individuals:
-IPY Ranch, Hulett
-Campstool Ranch and KOA of Devils Tower
-EnCana Oil and Gas, Randy Teeuween
-Mantha Phillips, Casper
-Wyoming Livestock Roundup, Dennis Sun, Casper