Veterinary Science Teacher Earns State Award

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Left to right: Alley Munro, Nolan Underwood, Vicksburg; Molly Mora, Jayci Suseland, Schoolcraft; and Jessi Buell, Vicksburg.

By Sue Moore

“The students are on fire,” said Dr. Noreen (Noni) Heikes, the veterinarian in charge of Vicksburg’s veterinary science class. “They come out with good skills to succeed in any job. They learn to think, not just memorize.”

“We work the kids to death. Some of them tell me that college is way easier,” she said. In fact, she has been teaching this class for six years and has her first set of students, three all total, enrolled in Michigan State’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

For all of this and more, Heikes and her students in a few days are to be given an Excellence in Practice award by the Michigan Department of Education’s Office of Career and Technical Training. This is largely because of the way the class has been revamped over the past several years. She teaches what she calls a blended class in vet science. The 20 students come from all over Kalamazoo County for two hours of hands-on instruction in the classroom on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On Tuesday and Thursday they are given online background assignments which they can complete any time prior to class.

This allows her to teach in greater depth, she said. The students can review as much as they need to and the slower learners can take their time to “get it”. “We are practicing for real-life scenarios,” said one student, Alley Munro. “I love animals and want to fix them.” She knows she wants to continue in the vet medicine path. On the other hand, another student, Molly Mora, said it has helped her recognize she doesn’t want to be a veterinarian.

“It’s all Dr. Carol Lohman’s fault,” Heikes claimed. “A local vet, she urged me to take over an existing vet science class six years ago. It was much more focused solely on small animal practice. We need large animal vets, and so I take my students to farms with cattle, sheep and horses. They learn vaccines, castrating, ear tags, yearly health regimen. Most had never touched anything bigger than a cocker spaniel. They learn that they are capable of doing real stuff, not just filling in worksheets.”

The class is offered through the Education for Employment (EFE) program out of the Kalamazoo Regional Education Service Agency, (KRESA). When Heikes took it over, it was held in a small side room at the office of a veterinarian on Sprinkle Road. There was no room for a lab, few microscopes, and sometimes scant supplies. “We found a space that was used for storage in the ag building in Vicksburg, cleaned it out and with KRESA’s blessing, the space was remodeled specifically for our needs. Now we have a much more functional space, a shared wet lab, and funding for the resources we need to be excellent and innovative.”

There has been a huge Future Farmers of America (FFA) resurgence in Vicksburg. The group has gone from a few members to 70 or 80 who come from Heikes’ class and Michelle Guthrie’s agricultural classes. They compete in FFA district and regional leadership conferences. “With the huge number of agricultural jobs available in Michigan, and the resources of Michigan State University easily within reach, preparing students for these opportunities is vitally important!”

Some of the students also compete in the Health Occupation Students of America (HOSA) where they are judged on knowledge and skills proficiency. Last month, 10 of their students qualified to attend the state contests out of 11 in the region who qualified.

“My students challenge each other. They have to work hard and do good preparation each day. It lets them raise the bar for one another, way up,” Heikes said, with pride.

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