FFA members and advisors making due during COVID-19

By Madi Kregel, OCJ field reporter

FFA chapters all over the state have felt the sting of canceled competitions and a canceled state convention this spring, but advisors and chapter officers have adapted to online learning and virtual engagement.

Three of the Oak Harbor Penta FFA officers laughed as they recalled the different ways they have stayed busy and connected with each other during quarantine. After the online schooling began, FFA advisor Noah Neiderhouse said the students already knew what they were doing.

“When this all came about, it happened really fast, but we’ve been using Google Classroom,” he said. “All of the students are one-to-one in our school which has really been a godsend.”

Three Oak Harbor FFA officers, Trey Helle, Bailey Dusseau, and Emily Lutman talked about the different ag classes they are in and the activities they have during quarantine for the classes. Some of the activities involve worksheets about ag business or swine diseases, others are more hands on.

“I’m in the structural engineering class and we’ve been doing a weekly project, and I’ve been going to work everyday so I’ve been working in mechanics every day at work, doing a project and recording my time and sending pictures to Mr. Neiderhouse,” Helle said.

The types of projects the students comlpete depends on their unique situations. Neiderhouse also mentioned that even the seniors in ag class who are most likely feeling that “senioritis” have been taking videos of activities that they want to do and are enjoying the process.

“Some kids are farm kids, so they have a shop and stuff to work on, some kids don’t. Some kids live in town and do things around their house and that’s great,” Neiderhouse said. “There are the numerous projects that are being done. They seem to be very proud to do some of these projects. So I guess it’s a ‘doing to learn’ type of thing. I’ve gotten a bunch of emails back from community members who aren’t ag people, and how much they enjoyed watching the students do some of these things and be so professional. So it’s a pat on the back to this officer team that’s still sticking together during this.”

The chapter also holds a 4th Grade Ag Day each year. With the current situation, the Oak Harbor Penta officer team decided to hold a virtual ag day for the 4th graders. The chapter works with the Ottawa Soil and Water Conservation District and creates stations for the 4th graders to visit. Some of the stations topics included soils, livestock, and tractors.

“We’ve had it since I could ever remember. I went to it,” Bailey Dasseue said. “It’s just a day to teach the 4th graders about ag and we want them to be interested so that possibly in high school they can get an interest in being in FFA as well.”

This year, the 2019 officer team and the 2020 officer team at Oak Harbor worked together for the virtual ag day to create 4- to 6-minute videos at home involving anything ag related. Some of the activities included some creativity. Emily Lutman demonstrated an at-home bird feeder in one video.

“It’s like a bird feeder that you can make out of a red solo cup with peanut butter and bird seed,”Lutman said. “And there’s other people that are making ice cream at home in a bag.”

The goal is to publish the ag day videos on the day of the original scheduled ag day, allow the 4th graders to see it first, and then share the video with the rest of the public on social media.

To stay engaged with each other, the Oak Harbor FFA officers have communicated in group chats and social media, and they have used Zoom as a way to hold meetings. The chapter had their annual banquet scheduled for early April and, due to moving all online schooling for the rest of the year, Niderhouse and the second FFA advisor at Oak Harbor, David Stacklin, decided the students still deserved a banquet — though it was a virtual one.

Every FFA Chapter felt the impact of quarantine this spring, and different chapters handled the situation in different ways. At Ridgemont, advisors Shelby Faulkner and Stephanie Jolliff decided to opt out of their officer voting for this spring.

“We think it is important to remember that each program is different and will operate differently during this time to serve kids best,” Shelbey Fulkner, one of the two Ridegmont FFA Advisors said.

“We wanted to wait and let the current officers have their time while still members,” Jolliff said.

The two Ridgemont advisors emphasized their take on individualized learning and tangible skill building for students while they are at home. The chapter held their annual banquet virtually with a week-long series of online posts highlighting members and their achievements, as well as acknowledging community partners. The chapter highlighted the achievements in each grade level every day of the week. Jolliff said they paid attention to what was a necessity for the banquet, and that necessity was “celebrating the kids and letting them know they are loved.”

Both Jolliff and Faulkner praised their officer team for their good attitudes while coming into quarantine. They also learned some new online skills along the way.

“This quarantine has taught me to appreciate what we often take for granted,” Faulkner said. “It has been refreshing to witness students, who normally don’t have time to focus on themselves outside of their many activities, step out of their comfort zones and learn new skills.”

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