Student involvement catalyst for FFA growth

In only her second year at Hillsboro High School, FFA sponsor Krista Esquibel is leading one of the largest and fastest-growing student activities on campus.

This year, FFA membership stands at 87-an increase of 35 percent from a year ago.

And, contrary to the assumptions of most folks who grew up with FFA a generation ago, the membership is 51 percent female and only 49 percent male. What’s more, Esquibel estimates that only 10 percent of the members actually live on a production farm.

What’s her secret for building such a successful program?

Doing as little as possible.

More accurately, letting her students do as much as possible.

“In my first teaching job, I probably did too much for the kids,” Esquibel said. “My philosophy now is, if I leave tomorrow, I want the kids to be able to do it by themselves.”

That means giving them every opportunity to learn-sometimes the hard way.

“I tell the kids that all the time-if you don’t want to do it, fine. But I’m not going to do it. Sometimes I have to do that to get them motivated.”

Esquibel said she learned that lesson while she was a member of the rodeo club at Kansas State. Each year the club put on one of the best regional rodeos around. Students did almost all the work.

“We had a coach who didn’t do much, but he taught me a lot-because he didn’t do much,” Esquibel said.

“The kids are more proud if they do it themselves,” she added. “The whole key to it is student success. It’s not my success that matters-it’s if they feel successful.”

Student involvement is a key reason the local FFA program is doing so well, she said.

“I think the more activities you do, and the different kind of activities you do, the more the students get involved,” she said. “And when they are involved, they more they enjoy it.”

And FFA offers a long list of activities-something for almost any interest. In addition to local projects and class assignments, the South Central District of FFA offers nearly 30 “career development events” during the course of a school year.

Many of those events, known more commonly as “contests,” have a competitive edge where participants judge a variety of agriculture-related products, or compete at various skills.

The subjects range from soil, to horses, to public speaking.

The local chapter, Esquibel said, doesn’t compete in every event, every year. Usually, Hillsboro will field a team when the subject of the event is being taught in one of the classes Esquibel happens to be teaching during the semester.

This semester, for instance, she’s teaching a horticulture class and will send a team to the “Floriculture/ Entomology” event in Inman in April.

“We’re not considered extra-curricular,” Esquibel said of FFA. ” All of (the career events) are related to something we teach in class.”

She does make some exceptions, though.

“If I have some kids who are really good in an area and want to go to it every year, we do,” Esquibel said.

If students do well in district events, they can go on to compete in state events on the same topic. State winners can compete at the national level.

Esquibel said another reason FFA is growing is the strength of the local chapter’s officers.

“We have some good officers and some good kids,” she said.

Scott Nuss is the chapter president, Laci Frantz is vice president, Danielle Goossen is secretary, Cody Pankratz is Student Council representative, Jennifer Enns is historian, and Wade Kimbrell is the sentinel.

In addition to the contests, students have many opportunities to exercise leadership at the local, district, state and occasionally even national levels.

That’s a key attraction for Nuss, who enjoys the friendships he has developed with students from other schools at these occasions.

“All the leadership opportunities out there-to me, that’s the best part of FFA,” he said.

Added Esquibel: “There’s a lot of things you learn there that will help you be successful in whatever you go into. What other class teaches it?”

The local chapter just completed an effort to broaden the exposure of the organization through a variety of “FFA Week” activities-all planned and carried out by the members, of course.

The week’s activities included a livestock judging contest in Kiowa, a workshop with Hillsboro Elementary School third-graders about the importance of agriculture, an appreciation breakfast for FFA boosters, a chili feed with a guest speaker, and an all-school assembly featuring a former national FFA officer.

“We had a very good week,” Esquibel said.

“The more you get the exposure, the more proud kids are to be in FFA,” Esquibel said. “That’s what I want them to be.”

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