WALLINGFORD — On Tuesday morning, Kathryn Dal Zin changed a basking light bulb for a pair of caged geckos in preparation for the Lyman Hall High School agriculture science program’s annual agricultural fair.
It’s all in a day’s work for Dal Zin, who has been teaching since 2010 in the ag-science program, the same program she participated in 20 years ago.
She was recently named the Wallingford Public Schools Teacher of the Year for 2019-2020.
She said the construction of the Vernon E. Cleaves Agriculture Science & Technology Center in 2009 is the biggest change she’s seen in the agricultural-science program since she was a student.
“Coming from what it used to be,” Dal Zin said, “and being able to teach in what it is now, it’s everything you hope students will build on to be able to leave a legacy.”
She said all of the former ag -science students, hundreds of alumni, worked hard and set an example of what an agricultural program could be. The program stretches back to the early 1950s when it was called vocational agriculture.
The ag-science program now has around 317 students, drawn from the greater New Haven area.
“I tell (my students) all the time, for ag fair especially, if you see a graduate, and they say they’re an alumni, you thank them,” she said. “And the teachers who came before us … they really put heart and soul into the place.”
Agricultural sciences has grown from “cows and plows” to prepare students for a variety of careers. Students have gone on to become veterinarians and zoologists, but also elementary school teachers, TV producers and tattoo artists.
“Unique to the ag program, we get to see most of our students for all four years,” she said. “The best part is watching the kids grow, and seeing how they develop from year to year. Whether it’s ag or not, just seeing them be able to find what their passion is and find a mission or goal in life is kind of cool.”
Because of all the living animals, Dal Zin said she often comes in on the weekend to care for the ones that don’t go home with students. She also works during the summer, visiting kids on job sites for supervised agricultural experience projects.
“Industry-wide for ag teachers, teacher burnout is one of the major reasons people don’t stay with it,” she said.
Dal Zin, 35, has certainly stayed with it. She has worked toward her position since middle school.
When she was a student at Joseph Melillo Middle School in East Haven, her older brother, Calvin Croll, participated in Lyman Hall’s vo-ag program. She got interested in the program herself during a recruitment day.
As much as the vo-ag program inspired her, it was during her summers spent at Girl Scout camp that she discovered a talent for teaching, she said.
She worked as a sports specialist and assistant director of Camp Murray in East Haven, and taught the horseback riding program at Camp Laurel in Lebanon.
Dal Zin earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science in 2005 and a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction: Agricultural Education in 2008, both from the University of Connecticut, and a master’s in educational technology from the University of Saint Joseph in 2017.
Before coming to Wallingford, she was an agricultural science teacher at Westhill High School in Stamford.
In a statement, Danielle Bellizzi, assistant superintendent for personnel, said that Dal Zin’s “positive energy, strong work ethic, enthusiasm for helping students learn and commitment to including families as partners in their children’s education makes her an excellent teacher and colleague.”
Dal Zin also serves on numerous committees at the school and district levels, and has earned several awards at the state and national levels for her work in agricultural science, Bellizzi said.
“She is an outstanding example of the excellence found throughout the professional staff of Wallingford Public Schools,” she said.
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