SIKESTON -- They may not all be preparing to be future farmers, but FFA members are preparing for their futures.
National FFA week begins Saturday and continues until Feb. 24, according to Joanna Branson, advisor of the Sikeston FFA chapter.
"Our theme for FFA Week this year is 'Blue Jackets, Gold Standards,'" Branson said.
The blue corduroy jackets with the FFA emblem "have been around for almost 100 years," Branson said. "It symbolizes what we do. We expect them to be responsible when they are wearing that jacket, to be compassionate and helpful to their fellow students."
Established in 1928 as the Future Farmers of America, FFA now focuses on "giving kids leadership skills even if they don't work on a farm," she said. "We really stress being proud of your community, helping your community and helping others."
Branson said FFA has changed even in the last eight years since she graduated from high school as it continues to broaden its appeal.
"It's not solely for kids who live on the farm. They've really opened to kids living in urban areas," she said. "We don't teach them how to farm -- that's not what we do nowadays. We teach them how to be successful in whatever they do. Whether they are a lawyer or work in a daycare, they still need to be able to communicate with others, have a good work ethic and be a part of their community -- those kinds of things."
Branson said only 27 percent of today's FFA members live on a farm while 40 percent live in a rural area but not on a farm and 33 percent live in suburban areas.
FFA still has an agricultural connection, however.
Jim Russell, advisor for the New Madrid County R-1 Technical Skills Center FFA Chapter at New Madrid County Central High School, said his chapter's FFA members recently completed a farm safety program "and we'll do another one in the spring."
New Madrid County R-1's members also get hands-on experience in horticulture, working with both cuttings and planting seeds.
"We'll be attending the Mid-South Cotton and Gin show in a couple of weeks," Russell said.
"We still learn about topics like crop science and animal science," Branson said, "but we're not teaching them how to do it, we're teaching them ag literacy. We're teaching them about the industry, not actually how to raise a chicken."
Russell said his chapter is focusing on specialty animals like dogs and cats this year and also does a lot of shop projects.
"Right now we're working on a duck and goose hunting pit," he said. "We do lots of shop work -- that's one of our primary areas of instruction."
Community service has been a big part of the Sikeston FFA's activities this year, according to Branson, and will be a part of FFA Week activities for the Sikeston Chapter.
"Sunday we are doing a community service project with Mission Missouri: we're helping them paint and refurbish their building," she said. "We had a goal to do more community service this year. If anybody ever needs help we're always happy to volunteer."
Activities preparing Sikeston FFA members for life after graduation will also be included during FFA Week.
"On Thursday, juniors and seniors will be job shadowing for a career they would like to go into," Branson said. "They choose what they want to do -- we don't limit it. Last year somebody went to a landscape architect and job shadowed."
Thursday will also have leadership training consisting of "activities that build group teamwork," she said.
Branson said providing opportunities for those who haven't found their niche elsewhere is a big part of the Sikeston FFA chapter.
"It gives them a place to be leaders, be important and something to work at," she said. "It gives kids a place to be and a place to excel."