S-O begins ag ed recruiting
By KAREN SCHWALLER
SIBLEY – The hallways of Sibley-Ocheyedan High School were filled with a mix of familiar and unfamiliar sounds just before Thanksgiving, with the chatter of middle school students, cows bellering and horses whinnying.
That night, the high school ag education/FFA chapter hosted an exploratory night for seventh- and eighth-grade students and their parents, introducing them to the possibilities of ag education and FFA.
Roughly 40 students attended the evening with hopes they’ll join the new middle school FFA chapter. High school chapter members organized a fundraiser to add an ag instructor for the middle school level at Sibley-Ocheyedan.
The evening was the first of four designed to explain the value and benefits of FFA membership.
The Nov. 23 session focused on livestock, including veterinary career exposure, equine care, dairy science, vaccinations and dog obedience.
Three find-out evenings have been spaced throughout the school year. Upcoming events will include horticulture and agronomy, large equipment and ag technology – including GPS and auto steer – and food science and ag processing.
The November session featured students experimenting with vaccinations by “vaccinating” a banana. They milked a cow, learned the workings of a ruminate stomach, saw a calf ultrasound, got up close to a horse while learning equine health needs, and learned how to train dogs to follow commands.
Trevor Doeden, a seventh-grader, said this was something he looked forward to.
“My family farms, so I’m naturally interested in this,” he said. “After high school and college, I’ll be farming.”
Doeden said he plans to join the ag education and FFA experience as an eighth-grader next year.
“I’m excited. I like learning about the farm and doing farm work,” he said, adding that his favorite part is learning about animals and how to work with them.
Seventh-grader Beau Jenness said he plans to be part of the middle school FFA chapter as well. As someone who lives in town, he said he has dreams that include agriculture.
“I wish we lived on a farm,” he said. “I would like to drive the big machinery.”
Jenness said the evening “was great. I got to see the stomach of a pig and the inside of a cow. I never saw the inside of a cow before. It was pretty cool.”
Brian Gottlob, ag instructor and FFA chapter advisor, said the evening was completely student-led, with his students helping to plan and carry out the evening.
He said allowing middle school students to be part of the FFA and ag education experience will give him a broader base of students to teach once they get to the high school program.
The implementation of a middle school program, Gottlob said, “will allow us more time to develop these kids into great leaders.
“It’s exciting to see the community come together not only to finance the expansion that was needed here, but to be here tonight to help conduct this middle school program, and to see parents here tonight learning about ag literacy.”
Riane Vickery and Colby Wagenaar, both juniors, were two of the students helping that evening.
“No one knew what to expect tonight, but the kids are excited, and that makes me excited” said Vickery. “I’d like to see this build and grow.
“The opportunities that FFA provides you can take you anywhere.”
Wagenaar added the FFA program is strong.
“Right now we have just over 50 percent of the high school in FFA, and I give credit to Mr. Gottlob,” Wagenaar said. “He does a great job with the students.
“He’s the reason we needed a second ag teacher, and with a seventh- and eighth-grade program, it will be an easier transition into the high school experience.”
Wagenaar said with the 40 or so students who attended that evening, he expects higher numbers at future find-out evenings and good participation in the new program when it begins.
“They’ll go to school tomorrow and tell their friends, and they’ll be excited and they’ll get their friends excited about it, too,” he said, adding the opportunities through ag education and FFA will be endless.
“Someone’s got to feed 9 billion people,” Wagenaar said of the world population estimation for the year 2050.
The first session of these find-out nights took the help of many in the community, including a veterinarian, a few farmers and others skilled in the health and training horses and dogs.
Gottlob said he hopes middle school students will begin to think earlier about careers in agriculture, and learn about the importance of keeping records and identifying animals.
Last year, in the face of district downsizing, Sibley-Ocheyedan ag education and FFA chapter students, as well as the district’s communities worked together to raise $400,000 from district patrons to expand the school’s ag ed/FFA programs.
Part of that was hiring a second teacher to help relieve the load carried by Gottlob, who was teaching eight periods each day and trying to expand the program and keep up with extra, hands-on experiences for his students.
Students could see the need for extra hands to run the program, so they went to the community for help in raising the needed dollars.
Gottlob said some of those funds expanded the current high school program, because by the time the money was raised last year, there was no time to hire a teacher in time for this school year.
The middle school program will launch in time for the 2016-2017 school year.
State FFA President Michael Tupper, of New Hampton, was on hand in his full FFA attire, to meet the middle school students and encourage them to be part of ag education and FFA.
“A middle school program here would be awesome,” he said. “Middle school is a great time to get kids involved and there is a lot of opportunity for involvement here at Sibley-Ocheyedan.
“They have a very strong ag program.”
Tupper, a sophomore at Iowa State University, has traveled the world as a state FFA president, including China and South Africa, learning about their methods of agriculture.
Today, he is a part-time college student studying agricultural engineering and ag business. He will resume his full-time student status when he is finished with his state FFA president role.
“I started out as this kid who could barely speak in front of anyone, and now I’m up here talking to all of you,” he told the students, assuring them that the same opportunities afforded him would be theirs if they wanted to become involved.
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