Steve Rigoni didn’t have a typical path into teaching. He grew up around agriculture and worked in agribusiness for several years. After being downsized from a couple jobs, Rigoni didn’t know what he wanted to do. A friend pushed him to be a substitute teacher, and he was hooked.
“I ended up teaching for an entire quarter at the end of the school year,” he recalled. “I was like, ‘I want to keep doing this—I don’t want to quit.’ The school wanted to hire me even though I didn’t have a teaching degree or anything. I went back to college at age 40 for two years to get my teaching degree.”
That work has more than paid off. After being involved in education for nearly 20 years, Rigoni has been named as Michigan Farm Bureau’s Educator of the Year. He was a principal at Countryside Academy in Benton Harbor before he took over as their high school ag teacher.
“We lost our ag teacher and we were looking, and one day I was like, ‘I’ve been in ag my entire life—I should do this,’” said Rigoni. “I was looking to get back into the classroom and I immediately had regrets that I hadn’t done it 20 years sooner.”
He credits Van Buren County Farm Bureau and Countryside Academy’s board of directors for supporting him over the years. With their help and encouragement, he designed an educational barn and greenhouse—complete with rabbits, sheep, and pigs. In February, Rigoni and his students welcomed their first litter of piglets.
“When they were born, that was during class and we were pulling pigs, so they got to experience and help with it,” he said.
He will receive a scholarship to attend the National Agriculture in the Classroom Conference as well as a classroom grant of $500 from the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture. Rigoni says he is thankful for this accomplishment and it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of his community.