Saturday October 6, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- All these years of getting his hands dirty has paid off for Dennis Hamilton.

In his 33rd year of education, the Windham Regional Career Center teacher was recently named the Future Farmers of America Advisor of the Year in Vermont for his work with the center’s FFA group. Hamilton, 62, teaches courses in forestry, natural resources and machine operation and found out about his award in a letter a few weeks ago.

The FFA is a national organization aiming to help young Americans develop career, leadership and life skills in order to one day succeed in agriculture. The students Hamilton teaches in his forestry and natural resources classes are also members of the FFA group, along with other interested students in any of the center’s agricultural programs.

Hamilton was invited to join a directors’ luncheon at Vermont Technical College in Randolph, where he received the award.

"I told (those at the luncheon) it’s pretty important," recalled Hamilton, who started teaching at the center in 1976 but left the profession from 1977-80. "These days, there aren’t lots of accolades for teachers. I told them I really appreciated it.

"You don’t hear it often enough," he continued, "that you’re doing something positive for the kids."

Hamilton first got involved with FFA as a high school student in 1964. He said teaching at the career center is very rewarding because it enables youngsters to discover a niche or talent when they may not necessarily be the strongest academic student.

"I’ve had kids come up to me and say, ‘I can’t believe its November. This school year is going by so fast,’" Hamilton said. "They start to think, ‘Maybe school isn’t so bad.’"

He said many of his former students have over the years approached him and said the skills they learned in his classes and the FFA group gave them the knowledge and confidence to start their own business. Hamilton said that’s a great feeling.

Michael Burnett, in his second year as the career center’s assistant director, said Hamilton is a favorite among students.

"Dennis is a true teacher. Kids sign up (for the career center) just to take his class. ... He’s more than a teacher. He’s a big brother, a father, an uncle to some of the kids," he said. "He understands what it takes to be a well-rounded educator. ... He is a huge asset to the career center staff."

Hamilton has coached his students in the state soil contest for 17 years. He explained that the three best students at each represented school examine four soil pits and determine what the appropriate use of it would be -- for forest, agricultural land or commercial land.

He is also involved with the Winter Forestry Contest, which consists of students identifying trees by nothing more than twigs or bark and identifying bugs and insects based on the damage they leave behind.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.