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Nonnewaug High School's Chief News Source

NHS Chief Advocate

Nonnewaug High School's Chief News Source

NHS Chief Advocate

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Gianna Lodice '24 and Layla Coppola '24 February 15, 2024

Birkenberger’s Look Unchanged, but Floriculture Program Continues to Evolve

Eric+Birkenberger+poses+for+a+headshot+in+the+Ellis+Clark+Agriscience+Centers+conservatory.+Birkenberger+was+one+of+two+teachers+nominated+as+Nonnewaugs+Best+Dressed+for+the+2023-24+yearbook.
Madison Fitzmorris
Eric Birkenberger poses for a headshot in the Ellis Clark Agriscience Center’s conservatory. Birkenberger was one of two teachers nominated as “Nonnewaug’s Best Dressed” for the 2023-24 yearbook.

WOODBURY — There are plenty of words that students and staff have used over the years to describe Nonnewaug floriculture teacher Eric Birkenberger, but his colleague Kathleen Gorman summarizes him in three words: “Goofy, kind, and lovable.”

Birkenberger is known school-wide for his unique look, his goofy attitude, and unmatched knowledge of all things floriculture. 

“He gives us a lot of hands-on projects, like the arrangements,” said Hannah Searles, a senior in the agricultural program who takes Birkenberger’s class. “I really like the freestyle arrangements where he lets us make it our own, and how he buys the flowers for us to use. He gives us a lot of creative freedom.”

Searles’ opinion of Birkenberger echoes that of the rest of her classmates. His fan-favorite, hands-on method of teaching has evolved over years of experience.

“This is my 20th year here at Nonnewaug,” said Birkenberger. “Before, I worked at Wamogo; [Nonnewaug] was a better program and a horticulture position had opened up, and they were known for winning [state CDE] contests and for being a great program.”

Birkenberger has had great success leading the Floriculture Career Development Event (CDE) team, coming in first in the state this year and top five for the past few years. 

“The CDE’s are tied directly to my curriculum,” Birkenberger explained. “If I have kids that have taken my class for two years, most of what we’ve covered is actually on the CDE.”

The 2023-24 junior and senior floriculture class poses for a picture during their annual FFA Holiday Plant and Wreath Sale. The event is always a hit with the school and local community. (Courtesy of @greenhouse_2024_period2/Instagram)

Birkenberger brings with him not just years of experience, but a penchant for creating strong relationships with students in the classroom and making learning enjoyable, regardless of the topic.

“He’s a goofball and he’s really young at heart. You know what I mean?” said Gorman. “He puts energy into every little thing that he possibly can.”

Despite the fact that Birkenberger has been teaching his course for more than two decades, he continuously adapts and evolves his course to make it even better year after year. 

“He’s seen us do things like 1,000 different ways, but he’s always willing to try something new,” said Gorman. “I will send out an email saying there’s choice A and there’s choice B, and 100% of the time, Mr. Birkenberger answers back with a choice C that was never on the table. He’s always thinking outside the box and that’s him as a teacher.”

Beyond Birkenberger’s creativity, many have noted that his adaptability has allowed his course to remain one of Nonnewaug’s most popular agriscience classes. 

“I think my background [and] the experiences I’ve had in greenhouses and landscaping and that kind of thing [have helped me],” said Birkenberger about the many elements that he’s added to his curriculum. “I also think one of the biggest things is that I listen and I care what kids think. I ask them things. I care about the kids and I try to get to know them better.”

Birkenberger doesn’t just stand out for his teaching; he stands out for his school spirit, his personality, and most strikingly, his attire. In fact, this year’s yearbook will highlight him as “Nonnewaug’s Best Dressed.” So, what’s the reason behind all his ties?

“I think it started when I first started teaching,” said Birkenberger. “I was 24, and I looked like one of the kids, so I thought it was important to dress professionally, and you know, look the part. So it is weird because not many ag teachers dress up or wear ties, and the kids notice.”

Although his ties have remained consistent, Birkenberger continues to find new ways to improve his teaching.

“It’s the little things that I don’t think people think of that he puts his energy into,” said Leanne Golembeski, fellow agriscience instructor.

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About the Contributor
Madison Fitzmorris, Reporter
Madison Fitzmorris is a senior at Nonnewaug High School and writes for the NHS Chief Advocate as a reporter. This year is also her first year writing for the NHS Chief Advocate. She lives in Naugatuck and is enrolled in the ag program. When she graduates from Nonnewaug, she is planning to have a farm of her own in the future.
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