Wednesday, March 23, 2016

FFA Teaches a Broad Range of Skills

A favorite component of my job is attending a variety of student activities in our school district. In this very blog I have iterated the importance of these activities in the development of the whole child. Extra and co-curricular programs are designed to teach young people skills that are not easily developed or nurtured within the confines of a regular classroom experience. The fact is if programs are not striving to provide these type of lessons, one should question why we are making the investment. Providing young people with authentic learning experiences has a lasting effect that not only improves their performance in school, but prepares them for success outside the school when it really begins to count. 

Front row: Rachel Bauler, Morgan Kegebeing, Noah Mills
Collin Luck, Cole Luck, Travis Carolan. Back row: Witney
Galbraith, Kayla Carolan, Lane Marlow, Wes Geisler,
Tannor Wulf, Maddie Herring, Maria Geisler
I have shared many of these lessons and examples through the lens of our athletic teams and our music programs. I lamely argue that my excuse for this injustice lies in the fact that this is where my experience both as a student and teacher rest. I have missed the boat on perhaps one of the purest examples of providing students with authentic, real world and experiential learning experiences: the FFA. I deeply regret this omission! Unfortunately (which I have now realized much too late) I was never in the FFA as student in high school in spite of the fact that I grew up not too far from here and attended school in a district much like Hudson. We had an active FFA, but I erroneously believed the organization existed only for those students who lived on a farm. Because of that, I missed out on something pretty special. There should be no mistaking the fact that FFA exists and operates within the paradigm of agriculture. Yet to assume that farmers or kids that grow up on farms are the only ones that can participate seems to fly in the face of the inclusiveness in programming options at Hudson schools. Indeed our FFA chapter honors and recognizes the engine that drives the Iowa economy: agriculture.

In my visits to classrooms in the district, one of my favorite places to stop is the Ag room. This time of year is especially enjoyable because our kids are preparing for the annual plant and flower sale. A stop in the greenhouse reminds me that spring is upon us bearing witness to the colors of flowers and plants coming to life. Our greenhouse is quite a gem and a pure example of a laboratory of learning and experimentation. I enjoy interacting with students while questioning them about how and why they are getting results they are with their crop. It is not uncommon for these students to share a problem they were having, and explain in detail the steps they have taken to remedy that problem, or even more impressive: they have not yet solved the riddle but have an arsenal of strategies yet to be attempted. All while Mr. Deppe stays off to the side and lets his students explain what they are learning.

Monday evening we had the opportunity to hear a presentation from the Ag. Issues team at the regular board meeting. These students recently competed and won their district competition, earning a right to compete at the state convention in April. The caliber of their performance was second to none. In fact, it would surprise me if they didn't end up qualifying for the national competition. The issue they discussed was water quality and centered around the lawsuit filed by the Des Moines water works and three north Iowa counties. The students had an excellent grasp of the topic and were able to navigate the complexities of this issue, not only through their prepared remarks, but they were able to thoughtfully answer a myriad of questions that were posed by the board and members of the audience. 

Ag Issues team presents on water quality in Iowa in front
of the Hudson Board of Directors on March 21
Last night was the annual FFA banquet. This annual event recognizes the accomplishments of our FFA and pays tribute to the senior members of the chapter. It is a great event (with a fantastic meal), and one that I have come to look forward to attending. Part of the program includes an address from a parent of the chapter president, and he remarked that one of the attributes that he found most impressive about our chapter was the volume of awards on display when he first visited the room four short years ago. Ironically, when we were on spring break last week I found myself in that very room for some reason, looking at all those awards. District champions, state champions, even national champion awards and recognition adorned the walls and hung from the ceiling! Yet to us, these awards and recognition are ingrained in the culture of our FFA, and in many cases have become an expectation. This is a testament not only to the strength of our chapter, but the commitment, dedication, and insistence on excellence that Mr. Deppe has come to expect of his students. In spite of the accolades and success in competition, that isn't really the point of our FFA. Instead, it is about the learning that is taking place in our program.

As the evening was closing down Mr. Deppe took time to honor his seniors. It was very clear to me and those in attendance that the students cared deeply for their teacher, and he for them. It reminded me of how a parent feels when their child goes off to college! In closing, they were asked to remember the door to the Ag room would always be open for them. While thanking them for their service and contributions to the program, he stressed that their accomplishments were not only a testament to the Hudson FFA program, but to themselves. These young adults have learned skills that will enable them to be leaders in our community, to be engaged in state and nation, and to have the business skills and acumen needed to be a successful and productive member of society.

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