Tom Hojnowski was never in FFA in high school; but he’s now an agricultural educator and FFA advisor that has been honored with only three others in Pennsylvania this year for his excellence in agriculture education.
On Feb. 22, Hojnowski was recognized with the 2021 Golden Owl Award, an award established by Nationwide in 2018 to honor top agricultural educators across the country.
Students, fellow teachers or community members nominate agricultural educators for the Golden Owl, and Hojnowski said the fact that he was being awarded one, as well as the presentation of the award itself, was a surprise.
Hojnowski explained that he thought he was attending a “school wide faculty meeting regarding COVID updates in the district” on Feb. 22, but when Canton Area School District Superintendent Dr. Eric Briggs started the ceremony, he announced the meeting wasn’t about the pandemic at all.
Instead of receiving COVID-19 updates, Hojnowski and other attendees watched a virtual Golden Owl award ceremony after which a doorbell rang and Pennsylvania FFA Executive Director Michael Brammer told Hojnowski to answer the door; only to find two Pennsylvania state officers, including his former student Cheyenne Bastion-Brown, who is now serving as Pennsylvania FFA Treasurer, there to present him with the Golden Owl plaque and prize check.
“Being recognized with the Golden Owl is humbling, knowing what other ag. educators put into their programs. All advisors need to be commended,” Hojnowski stated, adding, “I am one part of many who impact the lives of the students who I have the privilege to work with over the four year program.”
“Tom is a very passionate educator and a great advocate for agriculture education both within our community and across the state,” said Briggs. “He is always exploring innovative ways to enhance the learning experiences of all the students who are in his agricultural education classes. Mr. Hojonowski’s commitment to the mission and vision of our school district makes him the perfect candidate for an award such as the Golden Owl.”
Hojnowski explained, however, that while he “(lives) FFA” today, his journey to becoming an FFA advisor honored with a Golden Owl (in FFA, an owl, symbolizing wisdom, is used as an emblem of each chapter’s advisor) was an unconventional one.
In high school, Hojnowski was given the option to pursue an academic route of study or his alma mater’s agricultural program; he chose the academic path, attended college and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Earth and Space Science, and a certification in elementary education, earth science, and biology.
Hojnowski had a love of the farm from a young age; and though he never lived on a farm, worked on farms beginning at age 10 and continued until he bought his own farm in Alba in 1992.
After kicking off his career teaching earth and space science at Horseheads High School in 2004, he moved to Canton High School where he taught general science then taught astronomy, biology, and oceanography.
Hojnowski, having passed an agriculture praxis exam the summer of 2003 after being asked to restart an agriculture program in Canton, was “finally introduced to FFA” at age 37 when he founded his own chapter.
Hojnowski stated that his own unlikely path to finding FFA has “shaped” his teaching today, as he never advises students to choose a route of study.
“Any student can choose to take the agriculture journey if they so choose and succeed. With FFA, what you put into it correlates very much to what you get out of it,” Hojnowski commented, adding that it is often FFA advisors that have a heavy influence on a student’s success.
Hojnowski especially cherishes the connections FFA allows him to make with FFA students, as he usually teaches them in at least seven classes throughout their high school careers.
“That time allows me to make special connections with them which last long past graduation,” he shared. “The owl is a time-honored emblem of knowledge and wisdom. We get to use what we learn past and present and our experiences to offer the many experiences that have the potential to bring out the potentials in the ag. students through the FFA program – this experience has been amazing and I appreciate all of the supporters of our program.”
Hojnowski was presented with an individualized plaque and $500 to support the Canton FFA program as a recipient of the 2021 Northern Region Golden Owl.