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Trent Van Leuven wins Idaho Teacher of the Year for his innovations, relevant lessons outside classroom

By Dianna Troyer 

For Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

From 69 nominees statewide, Trent Van Leuven, agriscience instructor and FFA advisor at Mackay Junior/Senior High School, was named 2024 CapEd Credit Union Idaho Teacher of the Year.  

“He teaches the 4th R – reality – and prepares students for whatever career path they choose,” said Dr. Linda Clark, president of the Idaho State Board of Education, during a public presentation Oct. 4 in the school auditorium. “We have no teachers who do it better than you.” 

Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Debbie Critchfield said, “Your classes provide skill development and support local businesses. We want to let you know that we value and support what you do.” 

They presented Van Leuven with a $10,000 check and commemorative plaque. Next year, he will serve as spokesperson and representative for Idaho educators at state and local events. 

Gov. Brad Little congratulated Van Leuven via a video.

“He embodies all the qualities that make an outstanding teacher and mentor. Trent is making a real difference in the lives of our students,” Little said.

Van Leuven, who has taught at Mackay since 2014, said his goals are to teach students to be lifelong learners, collaborate, and have empathy for others. He thanked local volunteers for their continual support. 

“It takes a community to make things happen,” Van Leuven said. “Whenever I need help, someone is there. Thanks so much.” 

Local residents worked four years with students at the Mackay school to build a 1,400-square-foot state-of-the-art aquaculture lab that opened in October 2022.

They also help plant seedlings at the greenhouse, purchase metal signs from students who fabricate them in the welding program, and buy plants and vegetables grown at the greenhouse. 

In a video, local colleagues, students, and Mackay Principal Stephanie Green described Van Leuven as energetic, dedicated, innovative, and persistent. 

“He provides all kinds of opportunities to be involved in projects and keeps us informed about scholarships and new programs,” said high school senior Austyn Wasylow. “Because of my experiences here, I’m planning to become a vo-ag teacher.” 

Bart Gamett, a local U.S. Forest Service fisheries biologist, has worked with Van Leuven on a variety of projects.

“He’s a dedicated teacher who has had a tremendous impact on students and the community,” he said. “He connects science to real-world issues.” 

Van Leuven said he has always considered the world to be his classroom and strives to make lessons relevant outside school. 

Through his innovative lessons, students …

  • became certified to do artificial insemination in cattle through the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.
  • assisted biologists trapping mule deer to study population trends.
  • established a golden trout fishery in Lower Cedar Creek near town.
  • grew tropical fruits in their greenhouse including passionfruit, papaya, figs, and sugar cane.
  • earned college credit during high school when Van Leuven taught dual enrollment classes through the College of Southern Idaho. 

Van Leuven has earned previous honors for his teaching. In 2016, he was one of six educators nationwide who received the National Agri-science Teacher of the Year Award from the National Association of Agricultural Educators. He represented Region 1, an area encompassing nine western states. 

In 2012, the association honored him with an Ideas Unlimited Award for using a mobile cow skeleton he made to teach anatomy and cuts of meat. 

He also volunteers as president of the Mackay Education Association, chairman of the State and Federal Lands Committee of Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, and was secretary for the Idaho Agriculture Teachers Association.  

Mackay School District Superintendent Susan Buescher and parent Lindsey Hofine nominated him for the CapEd award. A Rigby native, Van Leuven graduated from the University of Idaho with a degree in agriculture education.  

A video of Van Leuven and his students is at