SIKESTON -- National FFA Week is now under way, and this year it's not just about promoting the club, but a lot about celebrating.
"We do a lot of different things during the year, but this week is more of a celebration for us," said Joanna Branson, one of the club's advisers at Sikeston High School. This year's theme is "Blue Jackets, Bright Futures."
James McCormack, adviser at Oran High School, agreed. "The reason the week is set aside is just to show our appreciation for people that help us out throughout the year," he said. "It's also a time to celebrate being involved in this great organization."
This year, the organization is celebrating a big birthday -- founded in 1928, it turns 80.
Locally, the Thomas W. Kelly High School chapter will mark its 50th year of membership, and the organization is throwing a party next month to celebrate, said Jeff Scherer, adviser.
Scherer said the celebration came about when he realized that as the school celebrated its 50th birthday last summer, the chapter did, too. And since he already drills students on chapter history on all levels, Scherer wanted to mark the anniversary.
"You only turn 50 once," he said. "And I figured we've got a pretty good program here, so we should celebrate."
The celebration is scheduled to begin with happy hour at 6 p.m. and a catered dinner at 7 p.m. March 7 in the school's multipurpose room, said Scherer. All former members, advisers and administrators, in addition to one guest, are invited to attend.
Reservations must be made by Friday by calling Scherer at 545-3541 ext. 214.
So far, response has been steady, said Scherer. "There are about 20 former students in a range of ages that plan to attend," he said.
And those who were in the organization 50 or even just 10 years ago will see some stark dif- ferences in the organization today.
Scherer said one of the biggest was the name change, which came about in 1988. The name changed from Future Farmers of America to simply the National FFA " Organization.
The reason it was done is just so that students didn't feel like they had to be from the farm or had to plan on farming," said Scherer. "There's more to (the organization) than farming."
McCormack agreed. "Probably the biggest thing is that the organization is going a lot more toward the ag-business type than it is toward production agriculture," he said.
While a small percentage of students live on a farm or plan to go into farming, there are quite a few at each of the schools that go into agriculture-
related fields, the three advisers agreed.
In Sikeston, Branson said the program isn't as traditional as it once was -- because so few of the students are connected to agriculture. Classes such as greenhouse, landscaping and focusing on veterinary procedures give students other options -- in careers that are available locally.
There are a lot of misconceptions at Sikeston that one has to already be involved in agriculture to join -- a barrier they are trying " to break down.
I think we have a good success rate with students who would never have chosen ag," said Branson of students who enroll due to scheduling conflicts. "Once they come into the program, they have that option that they never thought they would have before."
To get out the word, members are doing public service announcements on B97.9 this week.
Another big change Branson noted is the increased involvement of females. "You see young ladies popping up in leadership roles more and more," she said, adding the number of female teachers has also risen.
Throughout this week, the chapters will host activities for members, school administration and the community. With days to wear their shirts to school they promote the club to fellow students. At Oran, students will drive tractors to school one day. Kelly hosts its Food For America program, which includes animals, tractors and other displays to educate third grade students about agriculture jobs.
"It just gives them an opportunity to see some of the equipment and animals you have on the farm," said Scherer.
The advisers said that FFA provides a different opportunity for students, as well as life skills.
"They do learn about agriculture and related careers," said Branson. "But also leadership and personal skills that will help them in any career, such as responsibility and communication."
McCormack agreed. "The opportunities are phenomenal in FFA," he said. Competitions, plus camps and conventions, give students something new. And FFA gives them a place to belong.
"A lot of students aren't necessarily athletic, but they can find their place in either the leadership side or the mechanical side of the agriculture program," said McCormack.
Branson said she's seen the club "empower" students. "We provide a niche for students who aren't really accepted," said Branson. "They really blossom by the time they get through the program."