New leader for a new FFA

The Hillsboro FFA Chapter joined chapters across the country this week in celebrating National FFA Week and the organization’s 75th anniversary.

FFA members invited the community to the high school ag shop Tuesday morning for a breakfast of sausage and pancakes and a peek at what’s going on in agricultural education.

First-year FFA sponsor and Hillsboro High School agricultural education teacher Tim Kilgore said FFA’s focus, and that of agricultural education in general, has expanded from traditional production agriculture to leadership training and career exploration.

To reflect this broader scope, the FFA dropped its “Future Farmers of America” title in 1988 and became the “National FFA Organization.”

“They changed it primarily to get away from the stereotype that if you are not in production agriculture, there is not a place for you,” Kilgore said. “FFA is now in major cities and not just rural areas. It’s not just strictly kids from farms.”

The FFA’s mission today is to develop “potential for leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.”

“The goal is to provide students with knowledge and skills to lead them into agriculture some day,” Kilgore said. “FFA provides the leadership component.”

FFA involvement is an “intracurricular” activity, and FFA activities are integrated into the school day rather than being “extracurricular” like sports programs.

“The focus for FFA is teamwork and leadership,” said Kilgore.

Members participate in a variety of events that allow them to use the skills they are learning in the agriculture classes.

“There are hands-on contests in different categories,” he said.

Categories in which students have competed recently include land evaluation, public speaking, and leadership. Winners of the chapter events move on to district, state and national competition. Events require preparation outside of class and critical thinking skills, and students are often required to give an oral defense.

Kilgore said he hopes to increase FFA involvement in the Marion County Fair this year.

“We’re thinking of adding an agricultural sweepstakes where they have to know about a lot of different areas of agriculture,” he said. “This would move them toward the state fair where there are lots of scholarships.”

He would also like to see FFA members more involved in showing livestock at the fair.

“We’ve never had FFA showing livestock at the fair before.I hope to get that going,” he said.”We sometimes have kids who are not in 4-H and don’t get to show.”

He said he also plans to bring back the dunk tank this year.

“Last year, I wanted to try to get money in the budget,” he said.

Funds raised go toward sending FFA members to the annual national convention.

Kilgore describes agricultural education as a three-pronged program that integrates education and hands on experience.

“FFA is a big piece of the puzzle. Then there’s classroom or lab experience and SAE (supervised agricultural experience),” he said.

The supervised experiences are done outside of school, but Kilgore helps set them up. He hopes to expand the opportunities for supervised experiences by working with local businesses and the recently formed local FFA alumni organization.

Kilgore, who is in his first year of teaching, also has many ideas of how the curriculum can be improved. He is taking a careful look at the courses being offered to see that they provide the best preparation for the over 300 careers in the science, business and technology aspects of agriculture.

This year, Kilgore is teaching an agricultural mechanics class that covers safety, welding and project construction. He plans to broaden the focus of the class in the future to include class projects that will apply to all students, not just those who live on the farm.

Kilgore has dreams of a new, larger greenhouse where students can grow flowers and vegetables and experiment with new growing techniques such as hydroponics.

Although the school currently has a greenhouse, he said it is too small, and he can’t get the entire class inside at once.

Kilgore is also teaching a small-animal science course that deals with less traditional animals including pets and poultry and a class on wildlife concepts that addresses wildlife management, habitats and natural resources.

“These classes offer some unique opportunities you may not get to do in other classes,” he said.

Consistent with the national FFA focus on leadership and preparing students for a variety of agricultural careers, Kilgore will be offer a new class in agricultural leadership next year.

“The focus is on leadership skills such as public speaking, parliamentary procedure, interviews and resumes and selecting a career,” he said. “Hopefully, we can put on some leadership activities for the grade school and middle school.”

Kilgore said he wishes students had more elective classes so those interested in skilled trades could take more agriculture courses.

“There are so many more requirements for what you need to take to get into college,” he said. “A lot of kids that come out of high school may not go to a two or four year college. I think there are too many people graduating from college and not enough in skilled trades.”

Despite ongoing concern over farm economics and the state of the family farm, Kilgore said enrollment in agricultural education is steady. Kilgore said there are 39 members in the local FFA chapter. About half of those members are girls.

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