SIOUX RAPIDS – Melanie Bloom likes to run a busy program, and as the FFA adviser for Sioux Central Community High School, it shows.
Bloom, in her 11th year as the chapter’s FFA advisor, said her students excel at hands-on opportunities to be involved in school and community. She has 65 high school members, and she works to get every one of them involved.
“It’s a fairly new program here, because it’s only been in this district for 12 years,” she said. “If the kids aren’t all involved, I try to figure out what to do about it.”
The Sioux Central school district takes in 11 different communities and zip codes, and is geograpically the seventh-largest school district in the state, she said, measuring about 37 square miles.
It’s a very rural area, which is good for the FFA program, but it also has its drawbacks, she said.
While 40 percent of the FFA members at Sioux Central Community High school have farm backgrounds, they have to decide to be part of it if they join, because many of them drive 20 miles to the school to get to FFA meetings.
“For most of them it’s a chance to belong to an organization that they see value in,” said Bloom. “FFA offers them leadership and travel opportunities. A lot of them are interested in agriculture or want to learn about it.”
Because of the distance to drive to meetings, she said, members need to prioritize to see the benefit of what FFA them offers them in comparison to other activities.
Bloom said nearly 100 percent of the members take part in at least some activities all year long. She said this is outstanding, since they have a chapter where almost all students pitch in and help with projects and activities, not leaving the hard work to someone else.
There are 15 FFA standards FFA’ers try to meet through activities each year, including leadership, scholarship, citizenship and financial management.
Though they perform between 12 and 15 service projects each year, they focus primarily on four activities each year, including showing livestock at the Clay County Fair in Spencer, and the Haiti Project.
Last year four Sioux Central FFA members went to Haiti to build homes from modified grain bins. This summer there will be 30 FFA members and parents making the trip, including students and parents from five states.
“It’s such a neat project because the kids take 110 percent of the ownership,” said Bloom. “They do the advertisement, the management and the organization for the trip. It’s amazing for the kids.”
The Sioux Central FFA students do a labor auction every spring as a fundraiser.
“Some of the kids meet future employers and do a little networking with this project,” she said.
This past year, the FFA students were approached by the Albert City Threshermen and Collector’s Show organizers, wondering if they would be interested in taking over their existing petting zoo and turn it into an educational exhibit. The FFA chapter assembled a display that featured rabbits, laying hens, a cow/calf pair, a sow with a litter of pigs, a couple of horses, sheep and milk goats. It’s a project they will do again this year, Bloom said.
The chapter’s most popular service event is bagging sack lunches to give away to farmers within the school district every fall.
“It’s our most visible project,” said Bloom. “We take more than 600 lunches to seven different grain terminals. We want to bring the lunches where the farmers in our district are hauling. The kids get to hand the lunches out and meet the farmers, and do a little networking.”
She said the members can pack the lunches and clean up in about three hours, with 12 to 15 students doing the preparations.
“It’s our way of saying thank you to the farmer producers in our area who do the work they do and support us all year,” said Bloom. “It’s nice for them to be treated to a free lunch that gets handed to them once a year at least.”
Bloom said the district’s commitment to the FFA program is something she doesn’t take for granted.
“It’s a testament to the school district and their commitment to ag education,” said Bloom. “It’s not just textbook and computer education here.
“Our equipment is expensive to buy, the learning is hands-on and we get dirty sometimes. It would be easy to cut an extension program like this, but they don’t.”
Looking back as much as she looks ahead, Bloom can see the way the FFA program has affected students at Sioux Central Community High School.
“We’ve graduated 280 students from this program over the years,” she said, “and so many of them have come back home, worked and started families in the area.
“It’s so humbling to me when one of my former students comes to me and says that something we did in ag class or FFA set them up for the future.”
Bloom said that 15 years ago there weren’t any females teaching ag or leading FFA chapters in northwest Iowa. Since the 1990s weren’t a good time to return to the farm, Bloom said teaching about the farm was her plan B.
“Women ag educators are more common,” Bloom said. “In the last 10 years we’ve seen an increase of 40 to 50 percent more female ag educators.
“The younger portion of our profession is evening out,” Bloom said of the predominantly male-oriented FFA leaders of earlier years.
“I had fun helping Dad at home on the farm, but now I know that this is where I want to be,” said Bloom. “I like teaching and working with the kids and the constant activities.”
With an FFA program that is off and running, Bloom said she’s far from a one-woman show as the FFA advisor in the school district.
“It means so much when former students come back to be involved with our current students,” she said, adding that the faculty and alumni of the district support the FFA program whole-heartedly. “These kinds of programs don’t just spring up overnight.
“It takes a lot of people to know what needs to be done, and it takes a lot of volunteers. All I do is manage the group. If someone has a question or a need, I have someone I can call and ask to help.”
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