Students look up to Wyoming high school agriculture program teacher

Kathryn Palmer
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Cheyenne Central High School agriculture teacher Tommy Cress talks with junior Katey Carson, 16, about plans to weld a fence at the Clark Allen School Farm in Cheyenne, Wyo., on April 30, 2021. The farm provides hands-on agriculture education for area students. (Michael Cummo/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle via AP)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Some of Tommy Cress’s greatest passions include ranching, rodeo and reaching young people.

For years, the longtime educator served as an assistant principal of East High School. But last year, he decided he wanted a more hands-on role and accepted a position as the agriculture teacher at Cheyenne’s Central High School.

“Administration was a great opportunity,” Cress said. “But I just missed being around kids and really getting to know them.”

Now that he’s back in the classroom, Cress, who grew up on a farm, has embraced his new opportunity to teach and mentor students, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported.

In addition to teaching traditional classroom lessons on agribusiness management, Cress spends a lot of time getting his students acquainted with the practical aspects of raising livestock — at LCSD1’s very own district-run farm on the outskirts of town.

Although many kids across Wyoming grow up on or around farms, not everyone who lives in Cheyenne has access to one. And that’s where the school farm, replete with student-raised pigs and sheep, comes in.

“Not a lot of districts in the state have something like this, so this is really big for our kids,” said Jeffrey Stone, LCSD1’s curriculum coordinator for career and technical education. “A lot of kids can keep a pig here and learn how to raise it and get it ready to sell.”

Stone has known Cress for decades, and has always been impressed with his drive and work ethic. When Cress made the switch back to teaching, Stone said Cress hit the ground running and has proven himself to be a solid role model for Wyoming’s future generation of farmers and ranchers.

“He is an incredibly hard worker. He researches everything,” said Stone. “That spills over to the kids.”

That’s been the experience of Sarah Turner, a junior at Central, who is planning to pursue an agricultural education degree at the University of Wyoming. Watching Cress’ patient and committed teaching style partly inspired that choice.

Although her family owns a farm in Wheatland, living in Cheyenne doesn’t allow her to visit that farm every day like she does LCSD1’s school farm. So, Cress helped Turner come up with the money to buy two pigs she keeps at the school farm.

He’s shown her the ropes of presenting animals at 4-H competitions and has become one of her favorite teachers.

“He’s not just an everyday teacher,” said Turner, who admires Cress’ patience and commitment to his students’ education. “Cress is someone I can look up to. He’s both competitive and compassionate.”

For Trevon Gilliam, who also is a junior at Central, Cress’s hands-on teaching style at the school district’s farm has meant an opportunity to keep pursuing his passion for working with animals. It’s a passion he developed while growing up on his family’s horse farm in Louisiana. He doesn’t have his own farm in Cheyenne, so taking Cress’s class has allowed Gilliam to keep learning the business.

“Mr. Cress has a very diverse teaching style,” said Gilliam, who aspires to work in agriculture after graduation, and admires the lengths Cress goes to in order to show students the many facets of raising livestock.

When school lets out for summer early next month, Cress won’t be taking a break from teaching.

Instead, he plans to spend even more time with his students at the farm, preparing them for the annual Wyoming State Fair competition — where they’ll hopefully sell the livestock they’ve invested so much time and effort in raising.