S-O expands ag education staff
SIBLEY – The leadership team of the Sibley-Ocheyedan FFA could see the writing on the wall. They had a great thing going, but they felt their chapter adviser and ag education teacher was going to burn out. It was then they decided to take action.
After approaching the school board and community, the Sibley-Ocheyedan ag education and FFA chapter, plus community leaders, spearheaded a capital campaign to raise $380,000 in pledges to expand the program to include another teacher.
Alex Emerson, 22, from Osage, will graduate from Iowa State University this spring, then begin his teaching career at Sibley-Ocheyedan High School.
Emerson said he knows the caliber of the program in that district.
“It’s really awesome to know the community has so much support for this program-to do fundraising to bring another ag teacher in,” said Emerson. “It makes me feel very wanted.”
Josh Wagenaar, 18, chapter president, said, “The (ag education) curriculum needs some support. Mr. (Brian) Gottlob teaches eight periods a day, so he has no prep time (during school hours).”
Wagenaar said since he is a senior, he will not see the results of adding a staff person.
But he still has hopes for others coming up through the ranks.
“I’ve learned so much about leadership, public speaking, doing hands-on activities and teaching to others, giving back to the community and getting involved,” Wagenaar said.
Senior Mystic Henningsen, 17, agrees.
“Our program is already so big that it’s hard for one person to handle,” she said, adding that there are 114 members in the chapter. “Having two teachers would make the program stronger than it already is and it would give the students more learning opportunities.
“FFA is something everyone can be part of, and in middle school, that’s what they’re searching for.”
She said she’s gained invaluable experience in FFA, serving as the treasurer for the Northwest District.
“I’ve done things I never would have thought of doing because of FFA,” she said. “I’ve gotten to do some traveling, and I’ve made a lot of connections that I think will really help me with my future.”
Karl Bormann, president of the Sibley State Bank and advocate for S-O’s ag program and FFA chapter, said it was easy to get involved in a community-wide fundraising effort, since it was ignited by the students.
“The four FFA leadership students said they were concerned that (current ag education teacher Brian Gottlob) was going to burn out,” Bormann said, “that there wasn’t enough time in the day to get things done.
“They (students) wanted more in-depth studies in agriculture, but (Gottlob) didn’t have the time to add to the curriculum.”
FFA students met with the school board last December to propose their case for hiring an additional teacher, but the district was facing budget cuts and didn’t find it feasible.
That’s when the students approached Bormann to find another way to make it work. They took the issue to local business and farm communities. The school board said if money could be raised, it would move forward with hiring someone for the position.
Bormann said to date, 95 percent of the money has been pledged, and the first-year salary package has been collected. These pledges will be used to fund the position for five years, including yearly salary, health insurance and IPERS.
“It’s been such an incredible experience,” Bormann said. “It put us in a position for success, and that’s the legacy surrounding ag education and FFA. No one here wanted to see that program deteriorate.”
In fact, the program is planned to expand its curriculum to include large and small animal science, plant science, horticulture and landscaping, agronomy, global agriculture and entrepreneurship, ag mechanics, meat and dairy science, natural resources and wildlife management and ag leadership.
The FFA experience will also be part of the middle school curriculum, possibly starting in the 2016-2017 school year.
“It’s been fun to see the kids set this goal and then achieve it,” Bormann said. “Everyone came together to accomplish this.
“It has allowed this program to remain strong at a time of adversity. It’s also an example of what FFA (leadership) can do for students … it allows kids to feel the confidence they can face a challenge and improve the world around them.
“We couldn’t be more proud of those four kids on the leadership team – who are all seniors.”
Gottlob said there is a unique kind of circle of service that exists in Sibley between the FFA chapter and the community.
“The students do their best to serve the community (through many service projects), and now the community is reaching out to help the kids,” he said.
He said it was humbling and inspiring to see high school students take on a project of that size, and to be part of fostering such a movement.
“I’m so impressed with what they accomplished, and to see their professionalism through the challenges,” Gottlob said.
He said on a personal and professional level it will be nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of and to have two heads working together to provide students with the kind of program they want and deserve.
Gottlob said classes will be smaller, and the program will be more streamlined, making things happen quicker.
“Our opportunity to grow with one person here was minimal,” Gottlob said. “We’ve always got to be doing the next thing.
“With another ag teacher we can continue building the program at a time when I thought we would be plateauing. It will be fun to see our future unfold.”
Emerson graduated from Osage High School and is student teaching at Gilbert High School, north of Ames.
He said he helped his grandparents on their grain and livestock farm as he was growing up, and that’s what sparked his interest in teaching ag education.
“Since I had a passion for ag, I decided I wanted to do something with it,” he said, adding that he stopped working on his grandfather’s farm after his grandfather died. “I knew of teachers who made a difference in my life, and I thought I could do that.”
Emerson said he hopes to teach students at Sibley-Ocheyedan that agriculture is an ever-changing industry, and that they will need to be ready for those changes.
“There will always be something bigger and better,” he said. “They’ll need to know how to roll with those changes and prepare for them-like GMO crops and animal welfare.
“There will always be people who are anti-agriculture, but without it everyone would be naked and hungry.”
Emerson said he is grateful to be part of one of the largest FFA chapters and ag education programs in Iowa.
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