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By Staff | Feb 17, 2012

FFA’er Shelby Goslar and her second-grade friend, Gaige Elewell, show off their food project — apple-wedges lips and marshmallow teeth. Peanut butter holds the “teeth” in place. FFA’ers talked to the pupils about food sources during the weekly exercise.


Farm News staff writer

CHARTER OAK -Thirteen years ago, two students, members of the Charter Oak-Ute FFA chapter, attended an FFA conference and heard of a national FFA program called Partners in Active Learning Support, or simply, PALS.

Upon their return they approached FFA chapter advisor and vocational agriculture instructor Lee Stence and said, “We’ve got to do this.”

The chapter is in its 13th year at Charter Oak-Ute School, Stence said. The program has been a success, receiving high marks from students, teachers, parents, and the local businesses that support it financially.

FFA'er Nathan Vogt with his two PALS second-graders Keely Kuhlmann, left, and Logan Armstrong.

The PALS program is a mentoring program where senior students enrolled in the vo-ag program spend one hour a week with an elementary school class. While it is an FFA program, membership in FFA is not required to participate in PALS.

After approaching the principal and superintendent to tell them of what they wanted to do and receiving approval, the program was started with Laura Seaton’s second graders.

The PALS program at the Charter Oak-Ute School assigns a senior student to a specific second-grader for weekly visits lasting one hour.

If there are two second grade classes, each class still gets an hour each week and some seniors may have two second-graders.

One of the first projects is the PALS T-shirt made by the second graders and seniors. The shirts have the PALS name, the name of the second-grader and their assigned mentor and a hand print of each on the shirt.

FFA members from the Charter Oak chapter, stand behind their second-grade PALS from Laura Seaton's class at Ute Elementary School.

They are meant to be worn each week during the seniors’ visit and to protect the clothing of the students if that day’s project is messy.

Weekly projects have included making individual pizzas, with discussions of where food comes from.

“We used hamburger buns and toaster ovens at first, until we blew the fuses,” said Stence. “Now we use the school kitchen.”

Another project is making ice cream, which requires preparation, he said.

“It’s a lot of work,” Stence said of the PALS program. The second- graders look forward to the weekly projects and once they are told about a project, “they don’t let you forget to do it.”

The focus is not just on agricultural projects. This year, the PALS program is making a compound similar to Silly-Putty, from glue and borax. It is one of the second-graders’ favorites every year.

Each spring, fior the past six years, near the end of the school year, farm animals are brought to school for that week PALS hour, which have included bottle calves, sheep, pigs, geese, ducks, kittens and a horse for rides.

If for some reason, a project can not be done during that week, a fall-back plan is having coloring books and the seniors and second- graders will spend time for that hour coloring together.

“We do a lot of community projects,” Stence said. “This is the one we get the most parental feedback about.”

Second-grade teacher Laura Seaton said the PALS program has made a positive impact in her classroom.

On the day of the PALS visit, second graders do not want to miss that day. “They come in sick,” she said.

Stence, aware of the second-graders depending on the weekly visit from the seniors, has cautioned his students about setting appointments that will make them unavailable for that week’s visit.

Whether the second-graders and seniors are working on a project or sharing reading, “the main thing is, they are together,” Seaton said, adding, her second graders’ work improves because they want to live up to their mentors’ expectations.

Seaton said the friendships between her pupils and seniors continue after the school year and for several years.

She has seen sixth graders wear their PALS t-shirts from the second grade to school. “They are a little snug and a little short,” she said.

Seaton said the first graders look forward to going into the second grade because of the PALS program and the third graders want to go back to the second grade.

Another program benefit, Stence said, with the high school in Charter Oak and the elementary in Ute, the PALS program strengthens the link between the two towns.

The PALS program costs $1,000 to $1,200 each year and the program is entirely supported by local businesses that write the checks to cover costs.

After 13 years of the PALS program, some of the first second graders in the beginning program are now seniors. Stence said he has seen his number of vo-ag students increase as they want to be part of the PALS program now as seniors.

“I’m proud of what they do,” Stence said.

Seaton added, “This is a program that needs to be brought to other schools.”

Contact Clayton Rye at crye@wctatel.net.

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