(Photos by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
"The biggest thing students are learning is leadership and responsibility," said Jim Russell, New Madrid County Central High School FFA adviser. "I tell the kids when people do hiring those are the things they look for."
For the past 17 years, Russell has served as New Madrid County Central High School's FFA adviser. He said the New Madrid chapter has 35-40 members, which is the average size of membership for the school.
Formerly known as Future Farmers of America, the organization changed its name in 1988 due to the broad career opportunities in agriculture.
When the national program began in 1928, only 33 farm boys made up the organization. Today FFA is a national youth organization of 461,043 student members preparing for leadership and careers in the science, business and technology of agriculture with 7,308 local chapters in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Four years ago, Sikeston Public Schools rechartered an FFA chapter. Today their current membership stands a little over 100 -- up from the previous year's 75 members, said Jackie Wallers, one of the two FFA advisers.
"The organization keeps growing," Wallers noted. "The students get to meet people from other schools and get to know their teachers on a personal level."
Currently 62 members comprise the FFA chapter at Kelly High School in Benton.
"The benefits go beyond agriculture, and in many chapters the emphasis is on community involvement and improvement projects," said Jeff Scherer, Kelly FFA adviser of two years, about the organization.
Chapter members from Kelly High School showed appreciation to their school and community last week during National FFA week. "Last week we had FFA week, and I thought it was tremendous," Scherer noted. "We held a lot of different activities and participation was great."
Activities for FFA week at Kelly included a straw bale toss, FFA T-shirt/jacket day, volleyball games and a fish fry. Members also presented Food for America, where they bring in small animals like chickens, goats, llamas and bigger animals like steers and donkeys for third graders to see. They go into the classrooms and talk about where food comes from and show a video, Scherer explained.
New Madrid County Central's main FFA event for the year is the Food for America, which will take place in March, Russell said.
A former FFA member, Scherer said the biggest change of FFA through the years is the increasing number of female members. He said Kelly's chapter is comprised of about 50 percent girls. Female membership is similar at New Madrid, too.
While the majority of FFA activities in 1928 focused on production agriculture, today they also give students the knowledge needed for more than 300 diverse careers in the food, fiber and natural resources industries. Real-world skills members learn through FFA prepare them for a range of careers in such fields as marketing, law, science, international business, veterinary medicine and golf course management.
Agriculture has become such a broad career, Russell agreed. "A lot of my students go on to agricultural-related professions like welding and sales," he said. "You don't see many kids going back and working on the farm."
Senior Kenneth Bowling, Sikeston FFA treasurer, is currently taking classes in agriculture business, horticulture and equine science. He plans to major in criminal justice and minor in horticulture at Murray State University after he graduates.
Members learn leadership and public speaking skills through FFA, Bowling noted.
"I like everything about it," Bowling admitted. "It's fun, especially for being something school-related. I'm learning how to care for plants, take care of horses and a lot of other things about farming."