By Meredith Oglesby, OCJ FFA reporter
On March 7, students, advisors and supporters flooded to Marysville, Ohio for a jam-packed day of contests. At Marysville High School students were competing in the state public speaking career development event (CDE), and across the road students were laser focused at the Marysville Invitational preparing for the state spring skills contests that was just a few weeks away.
Little did students know this would be the last contest hosted before COVID-19 had different plans for the remainder of their school year. On March 12, Gov. Mike DeWine ordered all kindergarten through 12 grade schools closed until April 3 — maybe even the rest of the academic year. COVID-19 has left the world in a state of uncertainty. The daily changes have shocked local communities — disrupting work schedules, school schedules and the many events planned for the start of spring.
Ohio FFA is no different. Everyone is now wondering when chapter banquets, CDEs, officer interviews and even the upcoming State Convention will take place?
But instead of sulking about missed opportunities, Ohio FFA members and chapters are using COVID-19 as a way to show their resilience and be a source of positivity in their communities.
Felicity Franklin FFA members did not let COVID-19 slow their plans to host their annual Down on the Farm event. Using the Felicity Franklin FFA Facebook page, students held a virtual event by posting videos and sharing the story of agriculture with those in their community.
“This is a highlight of the year for most,” said Holly Jennings, Felicity Franklin agricultural educator. “When we were sent home two weeks ago, I had more questions from FFA members about this event than anything else.”
The 2019-2020 Ohio FFA State Officers have also identified social media as a way to stay connected with members and supporters.
“We will be having different social media challenges throughout the next couple of weeks,” said Holly McClay, Ohio FFA State President. “We will also be launching some new opportunities for our officer team to stay connected to Ohio FFA members and chapters!”
Keeping students engaged in classroom curriculum is also a priority for agricultural educators across the state.
“I have been a teacher here for 29 years and I have never been through anything like this,” said Linda Shuler, the animal management and services teacher at Tolles Career and Technical Center. “The change to online teaching has shown me the importance of prioritizing.”
Shuler has been using many types of communication for students to stay connected and learn from home. She’s using videos posted from the zoos across the nation to spotlight different animals for class and interacts with students through Google classroom.
The biggest challenge Shuler and her students faced when DeWine announced the closing of schools for three weeks was what to do with the 50 to 60 animals they had in their classroom.
“My students were exceptional,” Shuler said. “Everything — the guinea pigs, mice, snakes, turtles, a variety of birds — they all had homes to go to.”
Staying innovative has been key in providing content to students.
“It is challenging to do activities I have done in the classroom for the past 37 years in a virtual way that still makes a difference and teaches the desired material,” said John Poulson, Pettisville agricultural educator. “I have started and hope to use techniques from Google and other places to enhance their abilities to teach themselves and each other.”
The teachers understand what means the most to students right now is support.
“Our primary concern for students is that they feel like they still have their FFA family support systems because many rely on school for their social-emotional fill during the day,” said Stephanie Jolliff, Ridgemont agricultural education teacher.
Support looks different for each student and Jolliff is acknowledging that through different realms of communication. From emails and texts to using GoGuardian, a software the school uses to help students manage their devices and keep them safe online, Jolliff is staying connected to her students.
“This unique period has helped students realize the things they thought they disliked are actually routines that were undervalued,” Jolliff said. “We end nearly every email and conversation with ‘we miss you’ and the number of students that have replied they miss school, their classmates, their routines and the FFA activities has been a bit emotionally overwhelming.”
Jolliff also understands students may be facing other challenges at home such as slow Internet connectivity, stress from reduced incomes and students filling parent roles because their parent is considered an essential employee. Some students are even considered essential employees themselves.
Helping students find the silver lining in everything going on has also been a focus as students grapple with these difficult times.
“It is completely okay and normal to feel anxious and uncertain during this time. There is a lot of unknown in our world and everyone’s lifestyles are being altered,” McClay said. “We must acknowledge these thoughts and feelings and then move on in order to make the most of this time. We can use it to be reflective and innovative. Let’s stay safe, healthy, and positive!”
And although right now things seem very uncertain, Ohio FFA staff are working diligently to bring students a range of opportunities.
“All options are on the table for rescheduling and presenting the CDEs,” said Tom Oglesby, Ohio FFA CDE Coordinator.
Currently the CDE superintendents and staff are creating content to present these contests in an online format and are also looking at options to reschedule for as late as June or July.
“Our intent is to provide all events in some format for student participation,” Oglesby said.
The FFA community continues to stay strong during these tough times knowing better days are ahead. Chyann Kendel, Ohio FFA State Vice President at Large shared her favorite quote, “’Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react.’ How you respond to adversity in life is up to you. Know that at this time you have an incredible opportunity to redefine how you look at challenges in your life,” Kendel said. “Lean into your FFA community and know that we are all experiencing this together.”
Here are some more words of wisdom during this tough time from the 2019-2020 Ohio FFA State Officers:
Take this time to realize who you are without all of the activity that you are involved in. Do not look as if we have had opportunities taken away from us but rather time to slow down and see what is truly important — Beth Pozderac, State Vice President at Large
Enjoy the time you have with those around you and never take a moment for granted with those you love. — Noah Smith, State Secretary
Ohio FFA, I believe that you are resilient! Keep a positive attitude, spring back better than before, trust in the journey you are on and hold your head high. Make the most of the time you have now and get ready to adapt and conquer. We got this! — Mackenzie Hoog, State Reporter