Photo of New Richmond High School agriscience teacher Rachel Sauvola shoveling corn from a gravity box as she instructs students, from left, Michael Mast, Jazzmira Traynor and Melany Rodriquez how to remove corn to be fed to animals at the school-operated farm that Sauvola began and oversees. Sauvola, a 1999 UW-River Falls graduate, was recently recognized for her teaching expertise by being named a 2025 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year. UWRF photo.

New Richmond High School agriscience teacher Rachel Sauvola shovels corn from a gravity box as she instructs students, from left, Michael Mast, Jazzmira Traynor and Melany Rodriquez how to remove corn to be fed to animals at the school-operated farm that Sauvola began and oversees. Sauvola, a 1999 UW-River Falls graduate, was recently recognized for her teaching expertise by being named a 2025 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year. UWRF photo.

Educator noted for her inspired education methods, development of school farm

Whether developing a new program to produce beef for school lunch or training agriculture teachers across the nation to better instruct their students, Rachel Sauvola comes up with innovative ways to convey knowledge, a process she credits in part to her time as a student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

Sauvola, an agriscience teacher and a National FFA Organization adviser at New Richmond High School (NRHS), is being recognized for her educational expertise. She was recently named one of five educators statewide as a 2025 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year. She graduated from UW-River Falls in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education.

During her time at the university, Sauvola, of New Richmond, said she learned from numerous faculty role models who stressed the value of a quality curriculum and promoted her to think outside the box and come up with new ideas. Those learning experiences served as a starting point for the work she has accomplished with students since, she said.

“I had the opportunity to interact with and learn from high-caliber faculty and take part in programs on campus that helped me gain new skills and built my confidence,” Sauvola said of UWRF on a recent morning while helping her high school students sort plants grown in the school greenhouse. “It’s that learning and those programs that I have used as a foundation to emulate and give valuable learning experiences to my students.”

Educators earning the Wisconsin Teacher of the Year title were chosen by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) in recognition of Teacher Appreciation Week. Sauvola and others were chosen for their dedication to education and for how they positively impact students.

In addition to teaching and running the school FFA program, Sauvola serves as a mentor facilitator for the National Association of Agricultural Educators. In that position, she trains agriculture teachers across the U.S. to develop inquiry-based instruction models for their students. She teaches a wide range of courses on such topics as greenhouse management, veterinary science and a course titled “plants, animals, pizza and more” in which students study agriculture careers and topics such as supply chain issues.

Jill Underly, state superintendent of DPI, visited Sauvola and other award winners at their schools to notify them they had been chosen for the prestigious award. She credited them for their exemplary dedication to their students.

“This group of educators are a tremendous source of inspiration to their students, their schools, and everyone across Wisconsin,” Underly said. “They go above and beyond to support students in many unique ways, providing a safe, inclusive environment for kids to unlock their potential and grow as individuals.”

Sauvola is being recognized in part for her developing the Students Opportunities with Agriculture Resources (SOAR) Educational Center at her school, a school farm through which students provide beef for the school lunch program and learn hands-on farming skills. The farm is home to animals such as chickens, ducks, goats, and beef cattle. It is the only school-operated farm in Wisconsin that is a fully functioning, seven-day-a-week operation.

The farm provides students with many opportunities to learn about caring properly for animals and how quality animal care leads to better food, Sauvola said.

“This is really about providing our students with hands-on opportunities they need to learn most effectively,” Sauvola said. “With the work they do here, they can build a really strong resume and be the ones who are offered the jobs and educational opportunities they are looking for. That is what I want to do for them.”

The school farm not only connects students with agricultural issues, but community members as well. Many local residents volunteer at the farm, Sauvola said, and she partners with community businesses and farmers who donate their time and talents to SOAR. She said working with businesses is one way to introduce her students to the wide variety of agriculture jobs they can work in.

“I can’t run this farm by myself,” Sauvola said. “It only works if I have community members and students who are willing to be a part of it. And luckily for me, that is the case.”

Among volunteers who help at the farm are Eli Bell and his family. A 16-year-old sophomore at NRHS, Bell is involved in the school’s FFA program and worked this school year with Sauvola on an effort to grow goldfish. He researched how to best care for the fish but encountered multiple challenges that included obtaining a new pump to properly oxygenate and filter water.

Throughout the learning process, Bell said, Sauvola pushed him to think creatively to find solutions. He spoke about Sauvola Thursday while helping other students and volunteers move plants from the school’s greenhouse to other summertime locations.

“She is really good at connecting with students,” Bell said, “and then she pushes us to get uncomfortable. She is good at helping us think through issues to come up with solutions. And she convinces us to do things that we didn’t know we could do. She believes in us.”

Later that day Sauvola worked with students at the SOAR farm. She showed one group of students how to empty corn from a gravity box into buckets before it was fed to animals. Moments later she conferred with a volunteer farm worker about how to more efficiently water animals. Next, she gave directions to volunteers about specific animal feedings.

A short time later, Sauvola helped NRHS students Jaxon Becklin and Kyle Alexander haul boards that had been used for an animal pen from one site to another. The students praised Sauvola’s organizational ability and her high-energy approach.

“She is a really good motivator,” Becklin said. “She is really good at inspiring others to want to do this work. Part of her instruction is through hands-on learning and that is how I learn best.”

Given that “there are so many teachers across Wisconsin doing amazing things with their students,” Sauvola said she is humbled to receive the Wisconsin Teacher of the Year honor. She is grateful for the many opportunities she has been provided during her teaching career. But she remains focused on the future, how she can continue to connect her students to learning in meaningful ways.

“If I can create opportunities for my students, opportunities that help them not only learn but get them to where they want to go in life, that is what I really want to do,” she said.

Written by University Communications and Marketing, UW-River Falls

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