Sysco Secondary Educator of the Year Award:
Daniel Wagner, Greene County Career and Technology Center, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania
Dan Wagner, winner of the Sysco Educator of the Year – Secondary School award, has been teaching culinary arts at the Green County Career and Technology Center in rural Waynesburg, Penn., for nearly 30 years. After all this time in the classroom, he energetically continues to improve the program, mentor students with an eye toward their future careers and generously gives back to an exceptionally supportive community.
“I tell students that learning is lifelong, and you have to evolve to become successful,” said Wagner. He models that spirit through all his dedication, time and effort toward teaching and interacting with the students and community.
Throughout his career, Wagner has been a popular and respected teacher. According to Mark Krupa, administrative director and Title IX coordinator, “His influence has created an enthusiasm and dedication in his students rarely seen in young people today. They all take extreme pride in their work and accomplishments.” Other colleagues commented that Wagner constantly sets the academic bar high for his students and then supports them as they achieve the elevated standards.
Wagner attributes his classroom success in part to the positive reinforcement he provides. “If I have to criticize work, I do it in a way to show the good and make suggestions on how to improve on the weak parts. I always tell them, ‘You are in the right town just on the wrong street.’ I can then show them how to fix things.”
The Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America school advisor has increased the culinary arts academic program with the integration of STEM activities into various types of food preparation classes. He also coaches his students to have an eye toward their future job and helps them to see various possibilities with his chef mentoring program, where chefs come from far and wide to talk and work with his students. He is also highly involved in his school’s internship program.
One example of Wagner’s focus beyond high school and rapport with students can be found in a letter of support from Wagner’s award application. The story was written by the parent of a highly-functioning autistic son, Chris, whom Wagner taught and mentored. The father wrote, “Dan was instrumental in Chris’s growth as a young man in that he helped him expand his independence. He was the perfect fit as a teacher to our son. Dan fostered Chris’s sense of self-esteem. As a result of Dan’s help, Chris was able to gain employment in the restaurant industry and is a valued part of a team.”
Robert Mitchell, Greene County Career and Technology Center instructor, said, “Our school is located in a rural part of the state. Dan has taught his students that there is a greater world beyond Green County. He taught his students through hard work and ability they can achieve things never thought possible.” According to Wagner, he works with students to envision what their future careers might look like in two, five or 10 years down the road.
Many of his students have taken this vision of their future and brought it to fruition. Some of his graduates have stayed in the area and manage or own their own businesses while others have gone on to jobs in businesses such as: Private Chef, Napa, Calif.; DEGA Catering, Knoxville, Tenn.; Turtle Bay Resorts, Honolulu; and Alpha Baking Co. Inc., Manitowoc, Wis. Additionally, throughout Wagner’s teaching tenure, a group of students have supported five Presidential Inaugural festivities (41st, 42nd, 43rd, 44th, and 45th presidents) by working in the pastry kitchen, cold kitchen and hot food line for various events.
Community service is another tenant of Wagner’s instruction. Wagner feels that in order to have a strong community you have to give something back to it, according to Krupa. Wanger’s classes support many community efforts including serving 375 community guests during the Annual Christmas Buffet, which Wagner has been supporting for 26 years. Additionally, his students cooked for 250 guests at the Relay for Life Survivors Brunch. Another community event supported by the Greene County Career and Technology Center program saw the students prepare and donate over 25 gallons of soup for Empty Bowls service program sponsored by Waynesburg University.
Wagner has shown true dedication to teaching and is driven by a genuine love and enjoyment of teaching. He has a profound and positive influence on both his students’ careers and lives.