Glidden-Ralston chapter –
GLIDDEN – In the past decade, there has been a total turn-around in the FFA programming at this small high school in eastcentral Carroll County.
When current adviser Dana Weeda stepped into the agriculture education position at GRHS, the ag program then had 25 total students, three of them were girls. Today, that program has grown to 90 students, (about 61 percent of the total student body, which numbers 146 in grades 9 through 12). Two thirds of the members are girls, Weeda said.
A decade ago, she said, the focal point of the ag program was on ag mechanics. But since then, the FFA/ag classrooms were relocated to an underground level where there is no adequate ventilation to eliminate exhaust and welding fumes.
So the G-R chapter’s program focus, Weeda explained, has shifted to consumer-oriented agriculture, biofuels technology, career exploration, monthly community service projects and participating in FFA contests.
A few years ago, the chapter built a greenhouse, which allows for more horticulture to be worked into the curriculum. For Weeda, there is no division between ag education and FFA. “They are meshed together,” she said.
Prior to her tenure, the FFA students had little experience with FFA contests and were not attending the national conventions. But she changed that, getting the students to go to the national and getting exposure to the broader picture of FFA and what it had to offer students.
“After they went to a few conventions,” Weeda said, “they started seeing the contests as something they could do.”
Just like 4-H has become, the ranks of FFA’ers have as many city kids as farm kids, sometimes more. So Weeda has to orient her ag instruction accordingly.
On the first day with a seventh-grade exploratory class, Weeda asks, “What is agriculture?”
She said that answers are typically activities others do that don’t affect them. “But then I ask them do you eat? Do you wear clothes? Do you live in a house? You are all involved in agriculture.”
From there she begins to build a consumer-oriented awareness in these seventh-graders. It must be a successful effort because she gets a 60 percent-plus return rate when those seventh-graders come back two years later as high school freshmen.
The Glidden-Ralston FFA is ranked 14th among 230 Iowa chapters and received the 3-Star National Chapter Award.
Two of those freshmen, who returned four years ago, are seniors Weston Conner, the chapter’s president; and Corie Walsh, one of the chapter’s two reporters.
Conner is from an active farm family, owning and operating a cow/calf and farrow-to-finish operation with his brother. They purchase grain for feed from their father, who also leases the hog building and pasture to the boys.
Conner said he is planning to attend Iowa State University to head into ag education after high school.
Walsh lives in town and plans on a career in photography. “Being a chapter reporter has helped me with working with a camera and writing releases.”
Both seniors said they enjoy the chapter’s monthly community service projects. They clean the football field after games in the fall. They also adopt the local highway and keep the ditches cleaned out. During harvest they set up at the elevator in Glidden and at Ralston and feed producers who are bringing grain to town. The chapter raises its own funds to pay for the meals through meat and cheese sales.
In 2008, the chapter raised $1,500 for the local Alzheimer’s Memory Walk, which is a local five-county event similar to the cancer-fighting Relay for Life.
Conner said FFA has brought leadership skills, friends, and values such as being responsible, understanding teamwork and respecting others.
Walsh said the FFA contests “have brought me out of my shell. It has taught me to be more of a people person through creed speaking, being on the parliamentary procedure team and career development events.
When asked what it would be like if there were no FFA program, Conner said, “It’s be pretty quiet around here, because there’s a lot that wouldn’t get done.”
Walsh agreed. “We do a lot, because we enjoy giving back to the community.”
Advisor Weeda noted that “Every school district has kids who just disappear and I think FFA helps to capture some of those kids.
“For some, FFA is their homebase. They learn that they can try things and it’s okay if they don’t win.
“Some find career choices that they never knew existed. They all get something out of it.”
Contact Larry Kershner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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